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A CurtainUp Review

By Jenny Sandman

Call it the price of trust. ---Margaret

Most people's knowledge of Northern Ireland begins and ends with Sinn Fein and the IRA. "The Troubles," that thirty-year period of heightened terrorist activity, was essentially a clash between Irish Catholics and Protestants. Catholics wanted home rule and a unified Ireland; the Protestant minority feared living in a Catholic-ruled country and remained loyal to Britain. Most portrayals of Northern Ireland are written from a Catholic point of view. Playwright Gary Mitchell is one of the few writers who consistently offers a glimpse of Protestant life. Many of Mitchell's plays are taut thrillers, rife with moral complexities (rather like a slightly warmer, more user-friendly Edward Bond). Trust, which which won the 1999 Pearson Best Play of the Year award and is making its New York debut under the auspices of the Play Company, is no exception.

In an interview with The Guardianin London Mitchell described his play as having a universal theme: parenting. The parents of Trust, Geordie and Margaret, disagree over how their son should grow up. Geordie believes the boy should learn to stand on his own two feet and be a man. Margaret reckons it is the parents' job to protect their children at all costs and punish anyone who upsets them. They each attempt to undermine the other's authority, and eventually the trust of the title is betrayed and destroyed.

Trust is a picaresque kitchen sink drama in which a son's fight and a father's shady deal intertwine in frightening ways. Geordie, the father, is a UDA godfather in North Belfast (the Ulster Defense Association being a Loyalist terrorist group). He's trying to buy guns from a soldier-gone-bad while his wife is frantically trying find their son's bully. Jake is a shy, victimized fifteen-year-old who feigns headaches rather than face his tormentors at school. As Geordie pushes Jay to fight his own battles, Margaret enlists the help of a neighborhood thug to seek out the bullies. When Jake finally takes a stand, Margaret's plan backfires. She is forced to make a bitter choice between protecting her husband or her son and the action builds inexorably to a completely unexpected and almost terrifying climax.

The production itself moves slowly (perhaps due to the tongue-twisting, near-impenetrable Irish brogue). However, this does not detract from its being authentic and engrossing, qualities aided by some very fine performances.

Ritchie Coster plays Geordie as a quiet but dangerous powerhouse, a man who knows his place in the world. His natural stage presence highlights Geordie's role as the linchpin of the story with every other character acting in point or counterpoint to him. He has a formidable opponent in Fiona Gallagher's Margaret. Her ferocious mothering is of the type usually found only in nature programs. Colin Lane as Arty, Geordie's second-in-command, forms the final member of the power triumvirate. Lane's performance is more subtle than Coster's, but he's a powerful figure in his own right, and provides a nice contrast to the bumbling thug Trevor (Declan Mooney). The solider-gone-bad Vincent, ably played by Kevin Isola, is overshadowed by his conniving, hard-edged girlfriend Julie (Meredith Zinner). Interestingly, Jake (Dan McCabe) represents the story's most feminine element; he's also the only uncertain character, the only one not scheming.

Under Erica Schmidt's clever direction the cast forms a skilled ensemble. The director's stage transitions play up the story's inherent isolationism. The stage harshly lit with unnaturally bright light in between scenes and the actors continue their movements from the previous scene, oblivious to the light and the stagehands

Though play a more intimate setting would have been ideal, the Kirk Theatre's wide stage fits the production well. Too many plays these days are forced to make do with miniscule stages.

Jack Holland, Irish poet and journalist, once said, The tragedy of Northern Ireland is that it is now a society in which the dead console the living. While eminently watchable, Gary Mitchell's Trust, provides no consolation to be found, from either the dead or the living since even husband and wife can't trust each other.

Written by Gary Mitchell
Directed by Erica Schmidt
With Colin Lane, Ritchie Coster, Dan McCabe, Fiona Gallagher, Meredith Zinner, Declan Mooney and Kevin Isola
Lighting Design by Shelly Sabel
Costume Design by Michelle R. Phillips
Set Design by Antje Ellermann
Sound Design by Bart Fasbender
Running time: Two hours with one ten-minute intermission
The Play Company at The Kirk Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street; 212-239-6200
May 1st through May 23rd--extended to June 13th; Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. All tickets $15
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on May 11th performance
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