In “Cyprus Avenue,” Stephen Rea portrays Eric Miller, a proud, profane bigot from Belfast, Northern Ireland who considers himself “exclusively and non-negotiably British.” He is shocked to notice that his newborn granddaughter looks exactly like the Irish Republican leader, Gerry Adams, a man he detests. Eric gets a little pair of eyeglasses and paints a beard on her with a black marker just to make sure, flabbergasting his wife and daughter.
The play by David Ireland, a hit in 2016 at both the Abbey Theater in Dublin and the Royal Court Theater in London, is full of dark absurdist humor that can be very funny. Stephen Rea’s performance is often entertaining and always impressive, alternating between a shuffling sullenness and fearsome flights of verbal dexterity. “Cyprus Avenue” even offers something of a lesson in Northern Irish history and politics.
But when Eric goes from spewing ugly language to committing horrifying acts of violence, the play sinks from the weight of its artifice. “Cyprus Avenue” is framed by sessions between Eric and a black woman psychologist, with flashbacks to the deeds that have forced him into therapy, including an encounter with a masked terrorist that may or may not have occurred solely in Eric’s imagination. But there is never a moment when his insanity feels real. It feels imposed by the playwright. Eric may have always been narrow-minded, but, judging from the reactions of his family, his berserk conspiracy theories are something new, as is his willingness to act on them. Yet rather than attempt any explanation or insight into Eric’s deterioration, the playwright seems content to leave it as a metaphor and a moral: Hatred can be self-destructive. It’s too obvious a point to make the audience (at least on this side of the Atlantic) willing participants in the play’s jarring move from deadpan humor to deadly horror.
Written by David Ireland; Directed by Vicky Featherstone
Set and costume design by Lizzie Clachan, lighting design by Paul Keogan, sound design by David McSevene.
Cast: Ronke Adékoluejo as the therapist, Chris Corrigan as the terrorist, Andrea Irvine as Eric’s wife, Amy Molloy as Eric’s daughter and Stephen Rea as Eric.
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $80-85. Rush: $20.
Cyprus Avenue is scheduled to run through July 29, 2018