The newly and beautifully-renovated Irish Repertory Theatre in association with The Public Theater in New York City have brought in a doozy of a production from The Abbey Theatre in Ireland: “Quietly” by Owen McCafferty. About “The Troubles” and their aftermath but set in present-day Belfast, “Quietly” offers a day of “truth and reconciliation” – or at least, the truth, as ugly and painful as it may be.
Robert (Robert Zawadzki, solid and convincing) tends an empty pub and to pass the time, watches football on the telly, irritated as his home country of Poland gets trounced by Northern Ireland. In comes the tightly-wound Jimmy (a superb Patrick O’Kane) who knows an awful lot about football and one match in particular: July 3rd, 1974, when Poland played West Germany in the World Cup. Jimmy was sixteen years old at the time. When Robert asks how he knows so much about that game, Jimmy says, “Never mind how I know.” And by the way, Jimmy tells Robert, he has invited a man to meet him in the pub, and there might be a bit of shouting but nothing to worry about. Robert looks unconvinced, and he is right, because the moment Ian (Declan Conlon, equally superb and more than a match for O’Kane) walks in, there is a lot to worry about.
The pub in question has a special significance: a crime took place there, and for Jimmy, it may as well have been yesterday, not in 1974. Ian is a contemporary of Jimmy’s; he is a shambling wreck of a man trying to take stock of what is left of his life. This and their age are what Ian and Jimmy have in common: they are both prisoners of the past, inextricably linked, haunted, existing only in “bits and pieces.” Jimmy, coiled like a snake and ready to strike at any second, hangs onto his anger; Ian can no longer look at himself in the mirror when he shaves. But if absolution is elusive, perhaps what the two men have in common is enough to move forward.
The past, if not forgotten, has the ability to inform the present; man can learn from his mistakes. But the end of “Quietly” suggests that no matter how much the world has changed, clans and tribes and religion will aways demand you conform, or get out – and that includes “others” from far-flung countries who do not support the Northern Ireland football team.
Director Jimmy Fay has created a powder keg in a pub.The tension is sustained for the 75 minute running time, and I did not know if all of the men would leave the pub alive. For Jimmy and Ian, the past can never be left in the past, and one rash decision at the age of sixteen ruined lives and the effects have rippled on for years.
McCafferty’s “Quietly” owes a lot to Conor McPherson’s “The Weir.” Both Irish plays are set in pubs and there is much drink, talk, and male camaraderie. But “The Weir” is more elusive, less direct. Each character is haunted for different reasons, and they are only bound by the village they come from. What haunts the men in “Quietly” is opposing sides of same event, making their bond both permanent and devastating.