Category: Archive

Theater Review: Confrontation for a cause

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

BLOOD, by Larry Kirwan. Directed by Milos Mladenovic. Starring James Hallett, Fergus Loughnane and Robert Margolis. At Present Company Theatorium, 198 Stanton St. Through Sept 19.

There’s life after the "Fringe," or at least there is for Larry Kirwan. The prolific playwright and musician contributed "Blood," a strong, solid one-actor to the recently completed second annual New York International Fringe Festival, where, in accordance with the Festival’s rules, it played just seven performances, mainly to appreciative and reasonably large audiences.

Now, starting tonight, the versatile Kirwan’s well-cast and strongly acted three-character work, lasting only about 50 minutes, returns for eight more performances at the whimsically named Present Company Theatorium, whose artistic director, John Clancy, has been one of the tireless forces behind the "Fringe" since its inception two years ago. "Blood," in its subject matter and in its execution, was almost too "square" for inclusion into the "Fringe" schedule, the festival being a loose-limbed aggregation of plays, stunts and performance pieces that lean rather heavily in the direction of the bizarre and even the outrageous.

Kirwan’s brief playlet is as earnest as it is imaginative, conceiving an encounter in "a warehouse, somewhere in Dublin, January 1916," in which three forces in a recent failed attempt at revolution come together in a near-murderous confrontation.

"Blood," by virtue of its concerns and the physical situation in which its characters find themselves, is a talky piece, much in the same way that Frank McGuinness’s "Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me" finds its action in language.

Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo

Subscribe to one of our great value packages.

Where McGuinness’s entire cast was chained to the walls of a Middle Eastern prison cell, only one of Kirwan’s characters, the perhaps Communistically inspired James Connolly, is actually a prisoner. His colleagues, the poet and teacher Patrick Pearse and the hot-blooded Sean MacDermott, are, if not actually bound and gagged, as Connolly is when the play opens, very nearly as hobbled by the rigidity of their ideas, not to mention their never-quite-fully-articulated fears that their own futures, not to mention the destiny of their country, may contain only failure and frustration.

Kirwan’s director, the Belgrade-trained Milos Mladenovic, has guided his three-actor cast, only one of whom, Fergus Loughnane, who plays the physically impaired, fiery MacDermott, is Irish by birth toward exceptional results. The others, the stalwart James Hallett as Connolly, who was born in Edinburgh to Irish parents, and Robert Margolis, as the ascetic Pearse, handle the play’s elevated language so skillfully that the overall performance level approaches that rarity, true ensemble work.

In Kirwan’s view, Connolly and MacDermott were genuine ideologues, true patriots whose extreme and conflicting views would render them eternally incapable of genuine interaction, much less true cooperation.

"Blood" is based in actual fact, although the precise details of any interchange the three men may have had have been lost in the course of the 62 years that have passed since the failed rising, which directly or not, cost all three men their lives.

What is known is that Connolly, whom MacDermott, at least, considered a dangerous Communist pawn, did eventually unite with the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Connolly was certainly right when he told MacDermott, "Your type and mine will always be at odds in Ireland."

They still are, a fact sadly underlined by the Omagh disaster, which took place when "Blood" was already well into rehearsal.

In reality, Patrick Pearse reflected the ideals of the Gaelic League, while James Connolly, like Jim Larkin a labor leader, had founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party, an act that rendered him suspect in the mind of Sean MacDermott and others.

The three men, despite their differences, served on an IRB military council, which eventually decided on Easter 1916 as the ideal time for massive rebellion. In a detail not reflected in Kirwan’s text, it was apparently the scholarly, gentle Pearse who was particularly eager for a blood sacrifice he felt would inspire the Irish people toward a final struggle for freedom.

Connolly, one of the period’s most fascinating characters, served in the British army and then returned to Edinburgh. It wasn’t until 1896, when he was 28, that he migrated to Dublin. Even then, he didn’t really put down roots, moving to New York in 1903, remaining there until 1910, when he moved to Belfast to organize dock workers and mill girls.

Gravely wounded in the aborted 1916 rising, Connolly was executed in a chair, unable to stand before the firing squad.

Pearse, son of an English stonemason and an Irish mother from County Meath, developed a burning passion for the Irish language and spent much of his life teaching and promoting it. He officially proclaimed the Irish Republic at Dublin’s GPO on Easter Monday, 1916, and signed the surrender order the following Saturday. He wrote poetry as he waited to be shot.

It would be virtually impossible to tell the whole story of Connolly, Pearse, and the less familiar MacDermott in one play lasting less than an hour, but the portions of the tale that Larry Kirwan has examined and reinvented for "Blood" are compelling in the extreme, particularly as strongly acted as it is by Loughnane, Margolis, and particularly Hallett, who makes Connolly an especially galvanic character.

At least a couple of decades younger than James Connolly was in 1916, the powerful Hallett’s work stands as a real tour de force, even when the text keeps him bound and tied to a chair.

Larry Kirwan’s "Blood" will be performed Sept. 9-11 at 10 p.m., Sept. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 16-19 at 10 p.m. at Present Company Theatorium, 198 Stanton St., NYC.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese