Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ensemble takes a look at The Troubles

Continuing with their examination of war and its effects on human beings, The Belle of Belfast is a welcome World Premiere at Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles at the Atwater Village Theater.   


How religion has divided human beings one from another is not a mystery.  When we are indoctrinated into any formal (or informal, for that matter) belief system, those beliefs become Truth.  And, if my truth trumps your truth, you lose and I win or we fight and we all lose.  Playwright Nate Rufus Edelman examines these issues in this world premiere presentation.

The Irish are a lovely lot.  In a Simpsons episode a while back the show parodied the different ‘Heavens’ where the “saved” might go.  The Irish Catholics were portrayed on a cloud that featured donnybrooks and booze.  When folks lean toward a wee drop and a dust up, this sets the scene, at least in part, for The Troubles that plagued Northern Ireland for over twenty years.  The loyalist Catholics and the Protestants had issues that divided their country in a vicious way.  Anne Malloy (effective Sarah Gise), is a ‘wild child’ orphaned when a bomb blast claimed her parents when she was just eleven. Now seventeen, she struggles with all the angst of any girl her age, exacerbated by deep feelings of abandonment and an escalating lust for the local priest, Father Ben Reilly (the excellent Daniel Blinkoff).  Blinkoff manages to capture at once the deep conviction that must hold sway for anyone taking the cloth and believably shows the struggle we imagine any man might face when confronted with undeniable urges.

In the Irish film The Magdalene Sisters, the penetrating heartbeat thrum of the bodhran narrates the first reel with genuine passion. The Irish frame drum is heard again here in the pre-show. It is 1985 in Belfast. Illustrated with projected slides of cheeky Irish kids, marches in the streets and the detritus of civil war the tension is passionate and palpable.  The music is not credited, but may have been The Chieftains or The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem who even still today share the heart of Irish music around the world. Penny whistle and fiddle skim over the resonate beat and musically set the scene. Belfast is a battlefield where there ought to be peace. The music melds well with Pablo Santiago’s lighting and spare scenic design by Hana S. Kim.

Elderly Emma Malloy (the wonderful Carol Locatell) attempts to make her confession to the amiable Father Reilly.  In fact, she is a lonely lady, the great aunt of Anne.  She is frustrated that her great niece is out of control. She steals a moment near the end of the play when she makes her final confession.

Feckin’, arse and bollocks salt and pepper the text not only through Anne, but the priests themselves as they gossip in the rectory. Bill Meleady as the elder priest, Father Dermot Behan, may be a bit too stereotypically a drunk, where moderation in the character might show not only a touch of sympathy, but decorum as well.    However, director Claudia Weill, has her actors in check for the most part and the well defined characters are sad and funny and touching.

The accents are not Ulster, thank goodness, and mostly consistent.  The women were more difficult to understand than the men.  Anne’s girlfriend, Clara Murphy (spot on Caitlin Gallogly who could easily have played Anne as well) is a handy foil. Her special moment is delivered in a tender rendition of the last verse of a haunting Irish ballad, The Parting Glass, to honor their school chum who has perished in a bomb blast which virtually rocks the theater.

Though the lesson of the play is not to understand The Troubles, per se, we do become deeply involved in the motives and ethics of the characters as their lives unfold in this time of war, well told in Edelman’s play.  

Please go to see it for yourself.

The Belle of Belfast
By Nate Rufus Edelman
Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles
At The Atwater Village Theater
3269 Casitas Avenue
Atwater, CA 90039

Through October 28, 2012 in repertory 
with Year of the Rabbit

323 644 1929

No comments:

Post a Comment