By Owen McCafferty
Directed by Jimmy Fay
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“A bit of shouting – everyone shouts here – it’s the national sport.” – Robert to Jimmy in “Quietly”
Fifty-two-year-old Ian (Declan Conlon) appeals to his teen years’ nemesis Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) to meet in the neighborhood Belfast pub where they first became aware of one another thirty-six years ago when they were both only sixteen. It is not the same bar really, just the location of that bar from the past, the bar the adolescent Ian tossed a bomb into killing six Roman Catholic men including Jimmy’s father who was quietly watching a football match on the television set he brought from his home.
It seems over the years Ian has been feeling remorse and hopes a meeting with Jimmy might lead to forgiveness, reconciliation, and release from his overwhelming guilt. He envisions the deep-seated tensions between Protestant and Catholic, republicanism and loyalism, criminal and victim melting into mutual understanding and forward movement. This meeting is at the dramatic core of Owen McCafferty’s “Quietly” that is currently playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre in association with the Public Theater. Ian’s confession is witnessed by barman Robert (Robert Zawadzki) who is battling his own demons and his own experience of xenophobia.
After a slow start, Jimmy and Ian tell the story of that night thirty-six years ago from their own points-of-view. Jimmy demands detail from Ian and playwright McCafferty skillfully gives his characters a treasure trove of figurative language and compelling imagery to complete that request. The pictures of that day that have haunted each of them become the stuff of stories of sadness and regret. Of the two stories, Jimmy’s appropriately is more compelling and cathartic. He does not want to make Ian feel guilty, he is not seeking pity from Ian, and he does not want this visit to develop into some kind of remorseful friendship. This somewhat bizarre retelling allows him somehow to reenter a quiet zone, a place where he can have a pint and watch the telly without really watching and cradle himself in the memory of his Dad and his Mum and sort out his own regrets.
Both Patrick O’Kane (Jimmy) and Declan Conlon (Ian) deliver coercive performances. Their use of Mr. McCafferty’s rhetorical devices is impressive and convincing. They build their characters with as much depth as they can and do that with honesty. One wishes the playwright had found a way to give his characters even more depth and roundness so the audience could feel even more deeply for them and connect with them on a more intimate and engaging level. Robert Zawadzki does the best he can to enliven Robert the barman although, again, he needs more than a few texts and calls to the women in his life to deserve an empathic response from the audience.
Alyson Cummins’s set design recreates an authentic Irish pub that might need just a bit more wear-and tear. Sinéad McKenna’s lighting is often subtle leaving the “confessor” in the shadows of the confessional. Jimmy Fay’s direction leaves more space between words than necessary and loses the opportunity to make the first scene as engaging as it ought to be.
The importance of “Quietly” is it in its relevance to the current socio-political climate of deep-seated and systemic racism, xenophobia, gun violence, and terrorism. Most of the planet only sees pictures of the results of these horrors with only a few knowing the stories of the tragedies that continue to pile on top on one another. “Quietly” gives us a brief glimpse, albeit a relatively quiet one, into one of those stories.