A week or so ago, Gothamist saw this new play by Ronan Noone at the Irish Arts Centre, and we’ve been mulling it over since. Though Noone’s bio claims an influence of Sam Shepard, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Martin McDonagh (The Pillowman) and what he did with his Leenane trilogy, because The Blowin of Baile Gall is part of a Baile trilogy: the first entry, The Lepers of Baile Baiste, earned accolades a couple years ago in different venues around the country and then finally here last fall. Though we haven’t yet seen all of either playwright’s trilogies, they seem to share (in addition to a fondness for writing three-part examinations of the souls of Irish villages) a similar dark, brooding, thriller-thinker cross in their writing’s mood. For this production of Blowin, the actors are well up to the challenge of portraying their troubled, emotionally tangled characters, so that even if in the end the play itself seems slightly wanting, the experience of watching it is likely to stay with you and keep you thinking about it.
At the center of the play is Eamon (Colin Hamell), a fierce, arrogant construction worker who’s only left his village once in his life and who truly is, as another character puts it “a primitive.” He, Stephen, and Molly are working on renovating a kitchen, though even with the action never moving from the construction site the only time you see anyone wielding a hammer is when he or she is threatening someone else’s life with it. The hints as to one of the play’s major themes (in case you didn’t know in advance that “blowin” means outsider/foreigner) come early, as Eamon ribs Stephen about not being a real resident of the village (he’s only been there 15 years) and criticizes the contractor for having spent time in America. His xenophobia is reflexive, unrepentant, and impossible to reason out of him. It’s obvious there will be sparks when the contactor hires a Nigerian illegal immigrant, Laurence (played with seething passion by Ato Essandoh) – it’s just not clear how big a fire they’re going to start.
But it’s not only Eamon’s primitive attitude toward immigrants that provides fuel – he’s almost as bad when it comes to women. Here, there’s only one for him to deal with, but he tortures her. As Molly, Susan B. McConnell stands strong the way a female construction worker (or a female in a cast of Irish men, perhaps) needs to, though she also shows flashes of motherliness. Once Eamon’s girl, she’s now involved with Stephen, who’s quite a bit younger than she and, as embodied by Ciaran Crawford, is kind of a lost little boy, stuck between his oafish, Eamon-like tendencies and the gentler, more thoughtful side that Molly likes in him despite her frustration at his newfound religiosity via AA. Eamon is bitter about having lost Molly, and he doesn’t hesitate to abuse her or Stephen in order to see what kind of damage he can wreak, but his resentment at their relationship is tame compared to what erupts in him when he sees Molly trying to help Laurence, who is already suspicious of everything because of the contractor’s shady ways. It is not a nice sight to behold – Eamon’s swagger, his sharp eyes and harsh voice, were at first somewhat dashing, but now they are mean and threatening.
Unfortunately, despite or perhaps because of the enormously potent issues of globalization and exploitative labor practices, by the end of the play it seems that Noone is more interested in an older issue, gender relations. We don’t want to give away too much, but by the last couple scenes Laurence has disappeared not only from the stage but also practically from the character’s minds, and a great deal is left unresolved. Of course, it probably would have been impossible to do a whole lot of resolving without ending up with something trite, but still, we wish Noone would have wrestled with the implications of Laurence’s presence in the village a bit more instead of giving all the space he does to the tussling between Molly and Eamon, which in the end is just so much intersex tension of the kind seen in practically everything else. Overall, the result of what Noone has put together is, as we said, deftly performed and thought-provoking, but it could have been more so if we were given a little bit of additional concrete material from the xenophobia thread rather than letting Laurence essentially just slip back into the shadows, even if that is the way it would probably be in the real world.
Details: The Blowin of Baile Gall shows at the Irish Arts Centre, 553 W. 51st St., Wed.-Sat. at 8pm, Sat. also at 2pm and Sun. at 3pm., through Oct. 30. Tickets are via Smarttix.
First photo by Richard Chambers, second by Carol Rosegg.