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A CurtainUp Review

Belfast Blues
By Jenny Sandman

The voices of despair could soon be heard. --- Geraldine Hughes
Geraldine Hughes
Geraldine Hughes
(Photo: Jonathan Christman)

" Halfway through Geraldine Hughes' new solo show, Belfast Blues, we realize that she has moved from the frying pan into the fire. Her Catholic minority family moves from a relatively stable neighborhood (albeit in a very small house) to a much larger apartment in the projects.

The family's new home may be more commodious, but since it happens to be in the line of fire -- literally -- it leads to Hughes' story about growing up in 1970s and 80s Belfast really taking off. Many large Irish families have lived through The Troubles. But Hughes is privy to a unique set of horrors. Living in the slums (complete with rats, junkies in the hallway, and high crime rates) is coupled with watching IRA and British soldiers kill each other directly in front of her apartment complex. She sees men die on her doorstep, experiences her building being bombed and riddled with bullets ("the Irish version of a drive-by shooting") and watches small children accidentally decapitated and shot. Since Hughes spends much of her time hiding in the closet because it is in the center of the apartment and therefore less prone to stray bullets. It's a nerve-wracking way to spend one's childhood. When Hughes is selected out of hundreds of children to go to American and make a film about Northern Ireland, we're almost as relieved and excited as she is.

Though she has to return to Belfast after the film is completed, by the time she does, she's seen enough of the outside world to want to return. And return she does, attending UCLA, thanks to funding from the director and producers of her film. Thus she escapes Northern Ireland for good

Ms. Hughes' 85-minute story brings a new perspective to Northern Ireland's plight. Directed by Carol Kane, it's fresh and uncompromising, and makes for an absorbing evening of theatre.

Hughes has an understated magnetism that gives her a strong stage presence. She also has a gift for physical characterizations, with each of the characters she portrays as part of her story receiving his or her own distinct voice and mannerisms.

The set, fashioned from broken concrete and razor wire, with a few battered pieces of furniture, lends an authenticity and a certain urgency to the story. After all, no child should have to grow up around razor wire. Jonathan Christman's elegiac and evocative lighting emphasize the production's centerpiece--the slides of Northern Ireland and of Hughes' childhood. It's a modest but beautiful production that allows Hughes' story its full force.

Belfast Blues comes to the Culture Project after having played to critical acclaim elsewhere. Now it's New York's turn to become acquainted with Geraldine Hughes.

Written and performed by Geraldine Hughes
Directed by Carol Kane
Set & Lighting Design by Jonathan Christman
Sound Design by Jonathan Snipes
Running time: One hour and twenty-five with no intermission
Presented by Anjelica Huston and "That's Us" Productions at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street; 212-307-4100.
Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 4 pm.
All tickets $45. Student Rush tickets are $20 and will be available at the box office only one-hour prior to curtain with valid I.D.
From 1/11/05 for an open-ended run-- changed to a 4/24/05 closing date; opening 1/20/05. Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on January 19th performance
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