Ethnic Theater - Irish
"The Lepers of Baile Baiste"
Phil Bosakowski Theatre, Manhattan
Ronan Noone's powerful play "The Lepers of Baile Baiste," is a tale of sinners and sinned-against. Moreover, it is a strong indictment of officials of the Catholic Church.
But on the surface and initially, it is merely a lively slice of Irish village life in a local bar. Here the men of Baile Baiste gather to indulge in an easy male camaraderie, fortified by whiskey. And, since it is an Irish bar, no one lacks for words.
The men (including the bartender) have known each other since school days-in some ways intimately, in other ways not at all. Each is a sharply-etched character, in Noone's capable hands. On hand are the local gossip, the coddled mama's boy (who may or may not be gay), the town Casanova, the determined insurrectionist. And, finally, a former inmate of a mental institution, never seen but whose presence is strongly felt.
Though billed as a dark comedy, "The Lepers" puts the emphasis on "dark" rather than "comedy," particularly as the play progresses. As the pace and intensity mount, under David Sullivan's solid direction, accusations fly back and forth, and the niceties of polite society fade with each passing drink. It is a scene which totters on the edge and finally erupts into violence.
Through it all runs a fast-moving word game, in which each player must quickly offer a clichéd comment, such as "a watched pot never boils." It is clear that the men have known the game since childhood, a game which provides the key to the dark secrets of the past.
Sullivan's fine cast works as an ensemble, never missing a beat, with particularly striking work from Dara Coleman, as the man determined to rake up the past, and David Ian Lee, as the lad who wants only to be left in peace.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 13, 2004