Theater

Molly (Laura Latreill) reacts to Eamon's (Billy Meleady) taunting. Photos by Ralph Stewart
Molly (Laura Latreill) reacts to Eamon's (Billy Meleady) taunting. Photos by Ralph Stewart

Fasten your seat belts for "The Blowin" at the Playhouse

By CK Wolfson - August 24, 2006

Universal themes are often easier to see when it's someone else's reflection in the mirror that's being held up. In the Vineyard Playhouse production of "The Blowin of Baile Gall," award-winning playwright Ronan Noone holds a brilliant mirror up to the natives of Baile Gall (town of foreigners), a small, economically depressed Irish town where jagged lines are drawn between the natives and the blowins - those we might call wash-a-shores.

Both Lisa Pegnato's artful stage set - a house in the rubble of renovation - and the affecting original music composed by Mary Wolverton and Gregg Harcourt for fiddle, drums, guitar, banjo, support the immediate inclination to fasten your seat belts for the emotionally bumpy ride ahead.

"The Blowin of Baile Gall," the second play in Mr. Noone's trilogy ("The Lepers of Baile Baiste," and "The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag"), is a tightly drawn, compelling experience complete with wit and humor, tension, bigotry and the sins of the fathers.

The fast-moving action takes place in the course of a week, and like a metaphor, is set in the shell of a room in the process of deconstruction, the framing, floor and layers of old wallpaper exposed.

Sam (Tom kee, right) knows Laurence (Rob Karma Robinson) has no choice but to do whatever he is told. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Sam (Tom kee, right) knows Laurence (Rob Karma Robinson) has no choice but to do whatever he is told.

Town natives on the construction crew include the painter Molly, a tell-it-like-it-is single woman with a colorful past, and Eamon, scamming the dole inspectors, once a romantic partner of Molly, but now consumed with itterness and the desire to extract revenge for the fact that he believes the house he's remodeling, formerly his family's, should rightfully be his.

Molly scolds: "You know what revenge is? Well... ya hold it like your breath so that ya never breathe properly until ya get that person back that insulted ya or laughed at ya."

The rest of the crew, while tolerated, are targets for Eamon's malevolence. General contractor Sam, also a native of Baile Gall who grew up with Molly and Eamon, lost his standing when he left for America and became "The Yank." Stephen, once "Wild Stevie " but now a born-again Christian, recovering alcoholic, and Molly's lover, has lived in town 15 years, but is not allowed to forget he grew up in an orphanage and remains an outsider.

All in this fragile tribal mix carry anger from their lot in life, and grievances they inherited from their families. They take turns jabbing each other below the belt because they know each other's histories too well. Sam, attempting to smooth things over, as Eamon brandished his trowel like a weapon: "This country is flying and look at you. You use your brains to let a grudge eat away at you instead." And Molly tells Sam, "It's all American the way you try to fix things."

Always defiant, Eamon (Billy Meleady) challenges his boss, Sam (Tom Kee), "The Yank." Photo by Ralph Stewart
Always defiant, Eamon (Billy Meleady) challenges his boss, Sam (Tom Kee), "The Yank."

While the sense of impending menace and confrontation steadily increases, things don't become combustible until Laurence is introduced. The ultimate blowin, he is a black African and illegal immigrant, hired because he will work longer and harder for lower wages.

Directed and produced by the playhouse's artistic director M.J. Bruder Munafo, the play sizzles with energy. Details shine, like the proprietary way the characters claim their turf, including the crates and buckets they sit on during their brakes. She stages tableaus of violence that are almost sculptural in their grace. More importantly, Ms. Munafo supports the playwright's efforts to make the characters dimensional. Even the vituperative Eamon, masterfully played by Billy Meleady (from Dublin) becomes sadly sympathetic despite his rantings.

The entire cast is accomplished, working as closely as fingers in a fist, fully inhabiting their characters. Flawless in their brogues, (Mr. Meleady's came naturally), meticulously assured in their characters, each shines in his and her role: Randolph Tyler Adams, the struggling, easily influenced Stephen; Laura Latreill as Molly the survivalist, tender one minute and a spit-fire the next; Tom Kee, as Sam, the philandering, peace-at-all-costs "Yank"; and Rob Karma Robinson as Laurence, an image of stoic dignity and contained offense.

That 36-year-old playwright, Ronan Noone (Boston Magazine's 2003 Best Young Playwright), from County Gallway in Western Ireland, has incorporated and built on his own observations and experiences in Ireland as well as the Vineyard, with detailed acuity.

A prolific writer, Mr. Noone's plays have consistently culled recognition. "The Lepers of Baile Baiste," produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, won a National Student Playwriting Award. "The Blowin of Baile Gall" was produced off-Broadway by film and stage actor Gabriel Byrne at the Irish Arts Center, winning the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding New Script. Mr. Noone's new work, "The Atheist," opens in New York in November.

Seated in the back of the playhouse on Friday, looking like a typical Vineyard 30-something, the low-key and engaging Mr. Noone described his own reactions as a "blowin" when he moved to the Island in 1994. He worked as a house painter and tended bar at The Newes while he wrote. It was here he met his wife, Jessica Roche, whose family lives in Edgartown. The Noones, parents to 14-month old Molly, are residents of Weymouth, although they continue to come to the Vineyard in the winter where Mr. Noone writes.

It makes one think it's just possible we're better off for those who've chosen to be here.

"The Blowin of Baile Gall," Tuesday through Saturday, Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church Street, Vineyard Haven. Curtain times vary. Show runs through Sept 2. Ticket prices range from $20 to $35 with discounts for matinees, and Tuesday night shows. For reservations or information, call 508-696-6300. Visit www.vineyardplayhouse.org. This play is not recommended for children.