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The Belle of Belfast

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Kate Lydic and Hamish Allan-Headley
Photo by Carol Rosegg

The "Troubles" of Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s bring out the troubles faced by the residents of Belfast in the Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Nate Rufus Edelman's The Belle of Belfast at the DR2 Theatre.

The 85-minute play, directed by Claudia Weill, is a portrait of a society under siege, where sudden death lurks around every corner as the Provisional Irish Republican Army carries out bombing attacks aimed at killing Protestants but often with resulting "collateral damage" among the city's Catholic residents.

The Belle of Belfast hones in on a handful of characters, all of them Catholic, whose lives are defined by their attempts to balance fatalism with denial. Some rely on drink to keep the wolves at bay; others depend on religion. Set among these is Anne, a restless 17-year-old whose much-loved parents were both killed in one of these random attacks six years previously, and who is now being raised by an alcoholic and befuddled great-aunt. Anne is the emotional center of the play, and as portrayed by Kate Lydic, she herself is a ticking time bomb made up of equal parts anger, edginess, and desperation.

Anne's Aunt Emma (Patricia Conolly) seeks solace in the bottle and in going to Confession, even though she truly has nothing to confess. She just likes the rituals and the few minutes of social time with one of the priests —the younger Father Reilly (Hamish Allan-Headley) or the elder Father Behan (Billy Meleady), also a heavy drinker. These moments are the only ones we see of her, but we do know from Anne that she has not been much of a caregiver and that the teenager has been pretty much left to her own devices since she was 11.

Anne also likes to spend time around the affable 35-year-old Father Reilly, but her confessions to him are not of a religious nature, but about her strong physical attraction to him. She comes on to him and attempts to shock him with her sexual behavior, but he seems to take it all as a cry for help. When he invites her back to the rectory to talk about her misplaced feelings, however, the inevitable happens. Later, Anne tells her closest friend Ciara (Arielle Hoffman), and Father Reilly confesses to Father Behan, yet what surprises most is what doesn't happen. The moment of carnality and its aftereffects are simply absorbed into the maelstrom of daily Belfast life.

Of the characters, only Anne is shown as having multiple dimensions, and she actually does change and grow over time. Ms. Lydic makes the most of the part, and it is both exciting and scary to watch her in her unpredictability. The rest of the cast does nicely within the limits of their sketchy roles, but the play feels unfinished, leaving us with our unanswered questions about the fate of this embattled community.

The Belle of Belfast
Through June 7
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street at 20 Union Square East
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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