The only question Eric Miller (Stephen Rea) has for what appears to be court designated psychiatrist, Bridget (Ronke Akekoluejo), is “Why are you a nigger?” When she calmly reminds him the word is unacceptable, his “why?” seems genuinely naïve. He has a cliché image of Africans.
In turn, Eric adamantly denies Bridget’s assumption that he’s Irish. (So much for classification.) A Belfast Unionist fervently against the IRA, this middle class, middle aged, neatly suited man is a proud employee of the British government, a citizen of the UK. As he tells her his story, it’s dramatized before us with only intermittent appearances by the doctor.
Stephen Rea and Ronke Adekoluejo
Eric’s daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) has just had a baby. His wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine) is over the moon, while granddad seems not just passive, but hostile. He believes the child is not his daughter’s daughter, Mary-May, but rather Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Féin or at least his progeny (not clear.) Like communists under 1950s beds, Eric sees Féinians everywhere… Brad Pitt, Boy George, Bill O’Reilly are just a few. It’s in the eyes. Still, he denies hating Catholics, “Though it’s obvious they’re wrong…”
Descriptions of and tirades against socio-political/religious factions are dense, articulate and impassioned as any Shakespearean polemic. (One expects a thunderbolt to come down from the Heavens as punctuation.) They’re also a web. We find ourselves entangled in Eric’s invective, his increasingly unchecked anger and deranged mind. Between outbursts, the character could pass for any man-on-the-street.
Sure of Mary-May’s real identity, Eric paints a beard on the five-week-old and steals a pair of spectacles from Build-A-Bear in order to more fully picture what he conjectures. (The early part of the play turns on moments of black comedy.) At first Bernie puts the mania down to overwork, then, aghast, throws him out. Eric sits in a park considering suicide. And has an epiphany.
Andrea Irvine and Amy Molloy
IS HE in fact Irish?! NO! His whole life would be a lie! The baby is certainly Adams’, there can be no mistaking resemblance. His daughter must be a slut! Doubts begin to tear at the besieged man.
Eric is followed out of a bar by Slim (Chris Corrigan), accuses him of Sinn Féin affiliations. Convinced otherwise, Slim sits and talks with the proposed victim, finally agreeing to help him resolve the “threat.” Admission by the stranger that he has an Anger Management Class that night is a cheap shot, especially in comparison with the satirically on target reason he later flakes out on his promise.
As with many unstable souls, confusion provokes Eric’s ungovernable action. Here’s where the Bard stops being droll. (We’ve been lead down the garden path.)
David Ireland’s shockingly violent piece finds itself in the Martin McDonagh school of playwriting. Setting it in bourgeois Belfast rather than McDonough’s mostly country locales, allows savagery to creep up on an audience rather than reducing its effect. There are so many facets with which to engage, we’re distracted…until we can’t turn away.
Stephen Rea and Chris Corrigan
If there’s a better theatrical depiction of bigotry gone mad (outside of Shakespeare), I can’t recall it. Outside of the arts, of course, we see it now all too often.
Stephen Rea (Eric), ironically playing the opposite of his 1992 IRA member in “The Crying Game,” is marvelous. Internalization of furies we can only sense apart from verbal parentheses, manifests itself in every quietly intense or twitchy move. Physical characterization is a master class here. The character is convincing and then petrifying. And he sings!
Capably holding his own, actor Chris Corrigan’s Slim swings from amiable to deranged on the turn of a dime. Comedic timing is pitch perfect. Reflexive brutality credible.
Andrea Irvine (Bernie), Amy Molloy (Julie) , and Ronke Adekoluejo (Bridget) are all good actors.
Director Vicky Featherstone implies and withholds with terrific discipline, so nothing is revealed before its time. Pacing engrosses. Eruptions jolt. A square, raised stage (two sides of audience) is employed with such clarity one hardly misses a set. (Lizzie Clachan offers several chairs and apt costumes.) Two caveats: an infant’s head must be held- none of the cast does this. Bernie’s lack of desperate moves when bound and gagged is not believable.
David McSeveney’s Sound Design will make you jump and, in one case, seriously recoil.
Brett Anders’ Fight Design is, alas, but for a single incident, wimpy.
Photos by Ross Kavanagh
Opening: Stephen Rea
The Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre present
Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland
Directed by Vicky Featherstone
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Through July 29, 2018