A Disturbing Quiet in the Theater

A Disturbing Quiet in the Theater

Declan Conlon (left) and Patrick O’Kane (right) in “Quietly.” Photo James Higgins

There are no elaborate songs or techno-wizardy in the Abbey Theatre’s production of Owen McCafferty’s “Quietly.” The set is simple, the costumes are the everyday clothing of blokes in a bar, and the cast consists of just three contemporary characters—a Polish bartender and two Northern Ireland customers at a pub in Belfast. But this play is far from quiet. Instead, the troubling themes of murder, political unrest and how adults in historically war-torn Belfast, now a couple of decades removed from the worst of the violence—grapple with their earlier demons, when, as young men, they were right in the thick of revolutionary loyalties.

Forty years ago, two young men, Jimmy and Ian, were a part of a Belfast bombing that irrevocably changed both their lives. One a British loyalist, one fiercely devoted to Northern Ireland independence, a tragic outcome connects them forever. When they finally meet again, at the pub where the tragedy originally took place, emotions get inflamed, then quieted, secrets revealed and personal truths come out.

The play is disturbingly timely, considering the chaotic world events—random bombings and acts of violence by terrorist groups—continually being observed by a horrified global audience. And while the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (which basically stated that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom) did silence the fighting in the area, clearly, not everyone was pleased with the doctrine. The play goes even deeper than political turmoil, however and gives voice to such questions as: Can you be responsible for your actions as a hot-headed, passionate teenager once you have become an adult? How much regret does/should one have when looking back on the choices in their lives, and how much should one just chalk up to rites of passage? Can an ultimate act of violence ever be forgiven? Should it?

It was these and other questions that swirled through my mind at the end of “Quietly,” performed by three superb actors (Declan Conlon, Patrick O'Kane and Robert Zawadzki). “Quietly” will not be a theater experience so soon forgotten.

The play has been extended through Sept. 25, 2016

» “Quietly,” Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St., 212.727.2737, www.irishrep.org