Good work sometimes carries its own curse. Take the picturesque wreck of a set that Richard Chambers designed for “The Blowin of Baile Gall,” a play that takes place on a construction site in a small village in the west of Ireland. Chambers’ rendering of a decrepit old house under renovation for foreign owners looks so natural that we expect the same kind of realism from the play and its characters. But while the cast obliges, their characters do not; the phoniness of their strained dialogue and forced conflicts makes the walls of Ronan Noone’s play come tumbling down.
The Irish Arts Center has earned a respectable rep for trucking in productions of modern Irish plays by young scribes with political chips on their shoulders. At first glance, Noone’s play (originally staged at Boston Playwrights’ Theater) seems a comfortable fit in this provocative context, with its angry diatribes against “blowins” — outsiders — who are swarming all over modern Ireland, changing the social fabric of village life.
To local boyo Eamon Collins Jr. (a blistering perf by Colin Hamell), everyone on his construction job is a hated blowin, with the exception of himself and Molly Black (rock-solid Susan B. McConnell), whose village roots are sunk as deep as his own and with whom he once had an affair. To this soured native son, everyone else is a fraud.
Molly’s current b.f., the slow-witted Stephen O’Gorman (a scary King Kong, in Ciaran Crawford’s perf), doesn’t count as a native because he was born an orphan. The general contractor, Samuel Carson Jr. (George C. Heslin makes him a study in frustration), was born and bred in the village, but he’s tarred with the contemptuous nickname “Yank” for having emigrated to the U.S. for a few years to pick up work experience. The Englishwoman upstairs, who is renovating the house she just bought — which happens to be Eamon’s birthplace and former family home — is the most despised blowin of all.
All that changes, though, once the contractor hires a young black man named Laurence to work on the construction crew. In Ato Essandoh’s well-modulated perf, the West African emigrant (illegal, natch) has a strong core, softened by an air of grace and intelligence. How this prince ever got mixed up with this gang of roughnecks is imperfectly plotted and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Neither does anything else that happens in the play, once Eamon gets a load of Laurence’s black skin and proceeds to go after him like a lion catching sight of a gazelle with a gimpy leg.
By the time Eamon tires of verbally tearing the hide off the hapless immigrant and threatens him with a sharpened trowel, you’d think he’d have worked off his humongous grudge against blowins. But scribe Noone fixes it so the bilious Eamon has more rage to go around — enough to manipulate everyone else on the job to pound on Laurence.
Whatever validity there is to Eamon’s claim that the true sons of Ireland are being robbed of their heritage by profiteering outsiders is lost in overstatement. Scribe also loses credibility by failing to give Eamon worthy opponents to debate the issues, allowing the protagonist a clear field to rant, rave and make a bloody nuisance of himself.
An honest man with a grievance is worth hearing. A loudmouth with a weapon in his hand is worth throttling.