|L-R: Kate Lydic and Hamish Allan-Headley in THE BELLE OF BELFAST. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
Virtually everyone in Belfast in 1985 (whether Catholic or Protestant, young or old) was affected by the Irish “troubles,” although the manner in which they attempted to cope with their predicaments varied widely from person to person. For one it might be religion; for another, alcohol or drugs; and for yet a third, sexual rebellion. Thus, Ben Reilly (Hamish Allan-Headley), raised to be a good Catholic but orphaned as a young boy when his parents perished in a car crash, eventually became a mild-mannered Catholic priest, taking solace in his religious faith and certain that his parents, looking down upon him from Heaven, were pleased with the path he had taken. Dermott Behan (Billy Meleady), on the other hand, another priest with whom Ben shared living quarters in later life (but one who was much angrier and fiery than his clerical roommate) found solace of a different sort: he sought comfort in alcohol. And Anne Malloy (Kate Lydic), who also was orphaned at a very young age when her parents were blown up as collateral damage in an IRA terrorist explosion, thereby becoming martyrs to their cause, found an entirely different solution: she acted out as a sassy, rebellious, promiscuous, seductive teenager, ultimately engaging in the most damaging sexual behavior.
Anne is the central character in The Belle of Belfast written by Nate Rufus Edelman and directed by Claudia Weil, produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre and currently enjoying its New York premiere at its temporary location at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square in downtown Manhattan, and the play revolves primarily around her relationship with Father Reilly, the parish priest who is twice her age. The play treads very familiar ground but does so effectively, largely due to the remarkable talent and professionalism of its entire cast which, in addition to Allan-Headley, Meleady and Lydic, includes Patricia Conolly as Emma Malloy (Anne’s somewhat loopy great-aunt who has cared for her since Anne was orphaned) and Arielle Hoffman as Ciara Murphy (Anne’s best friend who is as lost as Anne is).
In our last review (of a recent revival of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros) we commented on man’s frequently foolish tendency to focus on the trivial and insignificant at the expense of the truly important. Ironically, something quite similar is at issue in The Belle of Belfast. In Rhinoceros we were introduced to characters who were more concerned over whether the rhinoceroses they encountered were Asian or African or had one horn or two than with the massive devastation they were causing. In The Belle of Belfast, Emma dwells on such trivia as where and by whom it might be appropriate for her to be touched and by the sin she might have committed by viewing an incident of shoplifting rather than any of the larger issues in life. Duncan is seemingly more concerned with the number of Hail Marys to prescribe in the professional for the most minor of religious infractions than with the death and destruction all about him (he actually takes pleasure in the martyrdom of Anne’s parents since it entailed the deaths of seven Protestants as well). And Anne is persistently hung up on replacing all her “fucking” profanity with milder “fecking” expletives, a distinction which actually seems to matter to Father Reilly (who remains more concerned over maintaining his relationship with the Church than with his relationship with Anne, even at her time of greatest anguish).
It is a sad but all too true commentary on the human condition.