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Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Ian (Declan Conlon, bartender Robert (Robert Zawadzki), Jimmy (Patrick O'Kane)

Ian (Declan Conlon), bartender Robert (Robert Zawadzki), Jimmy (Patrick O'Kane). Photo by James Higgins

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

A climate of tension and enigma insinuates the U.S. debut of the Abbey Theatre production, Quietly, by Owen Cafferty at the Irish Repertory Theatre.  With an icy scowl and a limp, Jimmy (Patrick O'Kane), enters a quiet bar in Belfast.  The bartender (Robert Zawadzki), a Polish immigrant, draws him a beer from the tap and they both turn wordlessly to watch the World Cup match between Poland and Northern Ireland on TV. 

Plenty of words will follow as the play, directed by Jimmy Fay, unfolds the fury still simmering within many in Belfast in 2009, years after the "Troubles."  While the physical fighting ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, distrust and disturbing memories still haunt the Nationalist Catholics and Unionist Protestants. 

Strained and fierce, Jimmy reveals that he is waiting for someone, foreshadowing some showdown.  Robert, the bartender, watches tensely for any warning of a clash but the revival of the old troubles does not heat up until Ian (Declan Conlon) arrives and Jimmy charges at him with a sudden head-butt.  Asks Ian, "That the only reason you agreed to see me?"

Jimmy, Catholic, and Ian (Declan Conlon), a Protestant, both now 52 years old, obviously share an old adversarial event during the long years of animosity.  Now there are points to be made and resolutions to be reached in this bar that has significance in their story.

Their past goes back to the upheavals of their religions and their country.  Jimmy and Ian are meeting for the first time yet they share an event that happened in 1974 when terrorism was rampant and even this bar felt its fury and saw the victims whose deaths live in memories.   Over 75 minutes, stories of the Troubles unravel, memories of violence, blood and death are vividly drawn as another beer is poured and the soccer game TV continues to draw their attention.

With electricity crackling in the air and sudden outbursts as they watch the match, Robert remains vigilant behind the bar where he has worked since he moved from Poland to Northern Ireland for a better life.  Zawadzki, aged thirty-something, pairs genial small talk with careful attendance to the two customers sharing their story between drinking beer and watching football.  Patrick O'Kane never eases his tension, running his hand over his bald head as memories haunt him.  Declan Conlon appears sedate until the truth emerges.

Alyson Cummins designed a bar that looks quite up-to-date and renovated with an electronic poker game and working beer tap.  Jimmy Fay keeps momentum moving between the taut silence as they watch the game, threatening angry flare-ups and simmering resentment.  Doubtful will be any lasting resolution between the two sides but truth has been exchanged between them and that has been achieved quietly, and there is value in that.

Also seen in TotalTheater.


Total Rating:  ***
Irish Repertory Theater in association with the Public Theater
132 -West 22nd Street
Opened: July 20, 2016. Closes: Sept. 11, 2016
Running Time: 75 minutes
Playwright: Owen McCafferty
Directed: Jimmy Fay
Cast: Patrick O'Kane, Robert Zawadzki and Declan Conlon

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors