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A CurtainUp Review
The Lepers of Baile Baiste!
By Elyse Sommer
By setting Lepers in a typically dour Irish town, Noone not only tears away the scabs still festering beneath abuse inflicted wounds of a group of young men, but makes the issue of improperly handled clerical misconduct a symbol for a country with a long history of relying on hypocritical sermonizing, platitudes and whiskey to deal with economic hardship and emotional problems.
Like Martin McDonagh, Noone is something of a young wunderkind who started his playwriting career ambitiously and with a bang -- The Lepers of Baile Baiste is the initial play of a trilogy and its finely detailed characterizations and gritty dialogue brought him the National Student Playwriting Award and immediate acclaim and productions. As with Shakespeare, the Irish rhythms and vocabulary of playwrights like Noone and McDonagh call for expert interpreters. Happily, the cast in the current production is more than up to the task. They are also fine actors who clearly define each character's personality within the framework of the dreary and often cruel bar room culture where years of tensions finally explode.
The play has elements of O'Neill's Ice Man Cometh, with the regulars of Kellog's (Zachary Springer) bar wandering in and out one by one, the ties that bind them and the traits that distinguish them from one another revealed bit by bit. The four men whose often cruel camaraderie reveals the childhood trauma which affects all of them, include a classic O'Neill pipe dreamer, the handsome "Yowsa" O'Dowd (Ciaran Crawford) who talks the talk about getting his green card and going off to "Amerikay" for a good job and more and better women. There's also the gossip mongering "Laddeen" Toner (Jeffrey M. Bender), whose constant nervous sneer is a giveaway for his insecurities. To see what's going to become of the saddest of the lot, "Clown" Quinn (David Ian Lee), one need only look at the long-time, half-crazed and occasionally violent drunk, Seaneen (Charles Stransky). To take the casual comings and goings into the second and more powerful second act's wrenching confrontations, there's Daithi O'Neil (Dara Coleman) who's returned to town after two years in England determined to make Father Gannon (Michael Shelle), the town priest, talk about what happened to Brother Angelus, the sadistic pedophile and to admit his own guilt in the mishandling of this situation.
To add to the dramatic tension, Daithi's return coincides with that of an unseen fifth classmate, Simon, the son of the local policeman (Kevin Hagan) and "Clown" Quinn's best friend (a friendship suspected of homosexual overtones-- something else not spoken about or tolerated in this narrow-minded atmosphere) has been sent away to dry out after attacking his father.
The play's title derives from the name of the town in which the story unfolds and a sermon delivered early on by Father Gannon who uses the story of the priest who ministered to the inmates of a leper colony to link sin with a dread and contagious disease. The town's name is fictitious, taken from the Gaelic for Raintown. The production would have been enhanced with some sound effects of pounding rain to underscore the symbolism of a "raintown" where people are drenched in despair but can't wash away their painful secrets and memories. Still, the stoic young Kellog's bar is depressingly uncozy enough to evoke an aura of unending cloudbursts and sadness.
Having the bar also accommodate the church scenes is ironically apt. After all, with no real help in dealing with emotional issues from the platitude spouting Father Gannon, the drinking and tough talk in Kellog's bar are a natural alternative.
While billed as a dark comedy, there's more cause for tears than laughter here. This is not escape entertainment, but it is a chance to become acquainted with a new, young playwright with a keenly observant mind and to watch some wonderful performances at a bargain priced ticket.