Two men walk into a bar. It’s Belfast, 2009.
In the play Quietly by Owen McCafferty, now playing at Corrib Theatre, barkeep Robert (Murri Lazaroff-Babin), a young man from Poland, is watching the World Cup on the telly and fielding texts from his girlfriend.
Jimmy (Ted Rooney) is the first to arrive. He was raised Catholic, but has left the faith. He’s a regular. Robert knows him fairly well. They communicate the way men often communicate, which means there is noise but nobody really says anything. They argue about the soccer match. Jimmy pretends he doesn’t care who wins.
Then Ian (Tim Blough) shows up for his meeting with Jimmy. The introduction does not go well. Robert is on edge. The real talking begins.
Jimmy and Ian share an experience–an event that happened more than 30 years ago, during “the Troubles”, when the two men were 16-year-old boys. During that time, Northern Ireland, which had won its independence from England in 1921, once again had become a hotbed for violence and local terrorism. The Protestant majority were loyal to England, whereas the Catholic minority wanted to reunite with the rest of Ireland. As violence escalated, the British army was called in. “The Troubles” lasted from the 1960s until Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and left a good many people dead.
In a country divided, young Jimmy and Ian were on opposite sides, each listening to the rhetoric of their elders. Each paid a terrible price. The time has come to lay the past to rest.
As Jimmy and Ian square off, Robert bears silent witness. McCafferty’s play is raw, profane, and based upon hundreds of years of hate and oppression. Says director Gemma Whelan of the play, “It’s the story of two human beings reaching across a seemingly impossible-to-bridge chasm.” I found it emotionally wrenching, at times hard to watch, but well worth it–for it is a story of our times and about our times. It gives us a glimpse at hope amid great division that people can change how they think about violence if they want to and that, while painful, healing is possible.
Quietly premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2012 as part of its Great Irish Writers Season, and was nominated as Best New Play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards. It received its U.S. premiere in 2016 in New York. This is its West Coast Premiere.
Corrib Theatre features plays from contemporary, lesser-known voices filtered through the Irish experience. Quietly runs through May 6 at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont, Portland. It is recommended for mature audiences, 16 and older.