The sectarian violence in Belfast may have ended, but the city isn’t quite ready yet for travel brochures in Irish playwright Owen McCafferty’s “Scenes From the Big Picture.” A single day in the modest lives of Belfast residents makes for a frank and fascinating tour through a panoply of emotions in this absorbing 2003 play, receiving a first-rate production from D.C.’s Solas Nua and Belfast’s Tinderbox Theater Company.
In the second U.S. production of McCafferty’s play, 24 hours of a summertime Belfast day are chronicled by 21 performers in 43 scenes. It’s a largely unflattering portrait, especially of the men — chiefly rendered as scheming louts.
Bored teenagers get their kicks by vandalizing the local convenience store and terrorizing its elderly owners. Meanwhile, an aimless twentysomething cheats on his wife with the local barmaid.
Two middle-aged alcoholics attend a funeral and convince a grieving son they were close co-workers of his father in order to fool him into buying them free drinks at a pub. A small-time drug dealer viciously beats his spaced-out girlfriend.
In other words, it’s just an average day.
Belfast director Des Kennedy keeps the action brisk and the passions raw in this inventive treatise, produced in association with Catholic U. as part of a Rediscover Northern Ireland program in D.C.
It opens to a quick glance at the cast (mostly local non-Equity thesps), who file into the Spartan blackbox theater for a group pose before settling into chairs at the back.
Using the barest of props, groups of two or more step forward to perform brief scenes that begin to intertwine. For the most part, the vignettes are terse and illuminating, only occasionally dipping into soapy waters. McCafferty’s crisp dialogue produces vivid and intriguing characterizations, large doses of anguish and frustration, ending with an earnest dollop of hope.
The city’s “troubles” are given only scant attention. Two brothers discover a hoard of buried weapons while visiting their late father’s farm. Another couple’s long search for their murdered son’s body is finally ended. In neither case do we learn more about their respective allegiances.
McCafferty joins an expanding list of busy Irish playwrights being given their first local exposure by the two-year-old Solas Nua (Gaelic for “new light”). The company is quickly earning a following in D.C. with its provocative productions.