A BLOODY GOOD TIME
Bloody Sunday is a 1972 incident in Derry, Northern Ireland, during which 13 civil rights protestors and bystanders were shot and killed by the British Army. Although the tragic events have been artistically immortalized in song, poetry, fine art, and even before in the theater, the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of The Freedom of the City is exceptional enough to rival any portrayal of the conflict.
Rather than tackle this massive story in its entirety and create a linear plotline, playwright Brian Friel cleverly uses the lives of three fictional civilians as the platform for this drama. The result is a carefully-conceived, exciting play which is inspired by Bloody Sunday; it arouses your sense of patriotism, tickles your funny bone, and keeps you enthralled until the end.
The action begins when Michael (James Russell), Lily (Cara Seymour) and Skinner (Joseph Sikora), hole themselves up in the Mayor’s Parlor at Guildhall to peacefully protest their economic conditions and lack of religious freedom (Guildhall is a real building where Derry City Council members meet and where Tony Blair led an investigation of the tragedy in 1998). To illustrate the injustices, stained-glass Catholic figures appear only in the backdrop of Charlie Corcoran’s stately set. Director Ciaran O’Reilly brilliantly carves out three different characters immediately by the ways in which each actor interacts with the props. While Michael, soon to be married and the stuffier of the three, declines to indulge in the Mayor’s libations and other comforts, Lily is easily coerced to do so by the irreverent Skinner. Thus begins the tension between the leads, one of several things that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats.
Another is the seamless way in which O’Reilly interweaves the public’s reaction to these three supposed terrorists. One minute, we are learning about the mother of eleven and her two unwitting companions. The next minute, we are either hearing from the press, the Church, the law, the military, the culture, or getting feedback from a classroom. All, except the lecture hall scenes that function as ineffective public service announcements, give us a marvelous 360 degree view of a political situation gone horribly awry. Aided by an expertly manicured lighting design by Michael Gottlieb and sound design by M. Florian Staab, intrigue is created on a stage that shouldn’t be able to hold half as much theatrics as it does.
As you’re watching trouble close in on this trio, you may ask yourself if this ordeal is worth it or if the characters know what they’re doing. Michael, the self-proclaimed voicebox for the people, constantly reminds you that he fights for the end of poverty and the right to practice Catholicism. Lily says “Don’t ask me nothing. I’ve no head. All I do is march.” Skinner plunges a sword in the heart of a painting in the Mayor’s office. Any more questions?
photos by Carol Rosegg
The Freedom of the City
Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City
scheduled to end on November 25th, 2012
for tickets, call 212-727-2737 or visit http://www.IrishRep.org