There is one moment of abrupt physical violence in “Quietly,” but it comes near the beginning of Owen McCafferty’s piercing drama about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and it is neither climactic nor cathartic. It’s baffling. This is not the way violence is normally depicted on stage or screen, in other words. But it is surely the way violence is most often received in real life. And that’s precisely what “Quietly” is going for in this brief, low-key, but piercing glimpse at the effect of violence on both its victims and its perpetrators.
Imported from the Abbey Theater in Dublin to the newly renovated Irish Repertory Theater. “Quietly” begins…quietly. Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane) is watching a World Cup soccer match between Ireland and Poland while nursing a pint in an empty bar in Belfast in 2009, presided over by Robert (Robert Zawadzki,) a bartender who emigrated from Poland. The chat is idle, sometimes amusing, full of insults about their own teams. Twenty minutes into this 75-minute play, the jocular idling ends abruptly, when Ian (Declan Conlan) enters the pub. Jimmy wallops him.
“That it – that the only reason you agreed to see me,” Ian says.
Jimmy says he hopes Ian has cancer.
We eventually learn that, 36 years earlier, the two of them, both then 16 years old, forged a bloody connection rooted in violence in this very pub. (Since it takes half the play to reveal the details, I won’t describe them here.)
“I’m here, but I don’t know what to say to you,” Ian says.
“You could start with I’m sorry,” Jimmy says
“I can’t speak for the actions of a sixteen year old child – but I can speak for myself now – I’m sorry what happened,” Ian says.
“That’s of no use,” Jimmy replies.
As short as it is, “Quietly” feels deliberately slow moving, the latter half consumed with what are essentially monologues that in the wrong hands could come off as stagey, and in any case require attention (and not just because of the accents.) But, under director Jimmy Fay, the actors make it credible – O’Kane, as ferocious, lean and scarred as a boxer; Conlan, defensive, in denial, and scarred; Zawadzki like a stand-in for the world, observing it all indifferently. The performances, and the specificity of the two men’s lives, help drive home the many lessons of violence – how kids are recruited into it, how lives are forever shaped by it, how the consequences are myriad and always entirely negative. These may seem like obvious lessons, but they clearly haven’t been learned very well.
Irish Repertory Theatre
Written by Owen McCafferty
Directed by Jimmy Fay
Set design by Alyson Cummins, costume design by Catherine Fay, lighting design by Sinead McKenna, sound design by Philip Stewart, fight direction by Donal O’Farrell
Cast: Declan Conlon, Patrick O’Kane, Rovert Zawadzki
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets: $50 – $70
Quietly is scheduled to play through September 11, 2016