The Quiet Men, ready to explode

Corrib Theatre's tense, potent production of Owen McCafferty's "Quietly" drags the Irish Troubles into the present in a Belfast Pub

The power of Owen McCafferty’s Quietly, Corrib Theatre’s latest production, takes you by surprise.

It starts slowly and, naturally, quietly. In fact, when it begins, it’s just a lone barman, Robert (Murri Lazaroff-Babin), sending texts to his love – or loves? The texts set up that they have moved to Belfast, where this play is set, from Poland. No one seems entirely happy about it.

Enter Jimmy (Ted Rooney), a depressed or angry (is there really a difference?) regular at the bar, clearly comfortable shooting the breeze with Robert, but not talking about anything particularly important. Their conversation mostly centers on a soccer match between Poland and Northern Ireland playing on a TV — and a 1974 soccer match between Poland and West Germany. But Jimmy hates soccer, so this conversation is meaningless. Or is it?

From left: Tim Blough, Murri Lazaroff-Babin, Ted Rooney. Photo: Adam Liberman

Jimmy mentions that someone might stop by to talk to him, and to ignore any yelling. Robert has plenty of worries of his own, what with some local folks not appreciating having a Polish bartender. So he doesn’t want any trouble.

Eventually, Ian (Tim Blough) joins the other two, but this is not a happy trio. Jimmy greets Ian with a headbutt, and it doesn’t get much kinder from there. These two haven’t met before, but they have a shared history — and, amazingly, it all goes back to that day in 1974 when Poland played West Germany to advance to the World Cup final.

It also goes back to a dark history of Northern Ireland, when people were so divided you had to be careful rooting for the wrong team or wearing the wrong color in certain neighborhoods. Their conversation, argument, self-discovery takes the bulk of the play, and both Rooney and Blough are up to the task of re-creating history for the audience only through their storytelling — no small feat. Rooney is especially powerful — a force, really, as he goes through several stages of grief (anger, bargaining, depression…) on his way to acceptance. And all with an Irish accent.

His performance is stunning, because he enters the bar just as his character does: almost unnoticeable, secondary, really, to barman Robert. But, by the time it’s all over, he’s the one you will remember.

That’s not to say Blough and Lazaroff-Babin don’t also deserve accolades. They do. All three men carry their weight in this trifecta. Lazaroff-Babin sits quietly, as the title implies, throughout the entirety of Jimmy and Ian’s conversation. He becomes the center of the play again only at the end — and his fate is uncertain, in more ways than one.

Order in the pub! Murri Lazaroff-Babin gets assertive. Photo: Adam Liberman

If you’re not interested in the history of Northern Ireland you might write this one off, but don’t: This is as resonant here today, in our divided country, as anywhere. Universal truths are spoken by these three: About the power of young people (“Kids can do more damage than you think”). About men full of rage. About being born into a way of life that is all you know, and believing it with all your heart — even if it means hating someone else.

One could quibble with a few minor touches, mostly in the play itself: It would be great to know more about Robert, given his importance in the play. And that soccer game goes on far longer than it should.

But Quietly is larger than any of those concerns. These men are speaking of history, but they also speak to the problems we are facing today. Under the precise direction of Corrib artistic director Gemma Whelan  — and with Tyler Buswell’s scenic design that sets you right down in a Belfast pub — these men are having conversations it is important for us to witness and carry with us.

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Corrib Theatre’s Quietly continues through May 6 at New Expressive Works, 810 S.E. Belmont St. Ticket and schedule information here.

 

 

 

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