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the Blowin of Baile Gall
By Elyse Sommer
That "Blowin" in the title of Ronan Noone's second play in a trilogy of Baile or Irish town plays isn't missing an apostrophe. The apostrophe doesn't belong in this Irish term for an outsider, as a Blowin doesn't belong to a place where people tend to accept people they don't know since birth gradually if at all. Playwright Ronan Noone has used the outsider theme to create a tense and powerful drama that gives us five rich character portraits even though we absorb their past, present and future during a crisis that unfolds over a period of just a few days.
The character who most obviously fits that Irishism in The Blowin pf Baile Gall is Laurence (Ato Essandoh), a young African hired to work on a construction site because he's strong and because his illegal immigrant status makes him cheap labor. To Eamon Collins, Jr. (Colin Hamell) anyone not born in Baile Gall is a Blowin. Thus he disdainfully applies that label to a young fellow laborer and reformed alcoholic, Stephen O'Gorman (Ciaran Crawford), who came to Baile Gall as a youngster dumped in the local orphanage -- that is when he's not calling Stephen Jehovah as a way of making fun of his efforts to stay sober and be a worthy born again Christian.
As for Samuel Carson Jr.(George C. Heslin), the G.C. (general contractor) of the renovation site where the play unfolds, though he and Eamon were schoolmates, Eamon now views Carson as an outsider because he spent twenty years in the United States and only recently returned to his hometown with his American wife. No small measure of his disdain and constant needling is prompted by envy and resentment of the other man's success.
Though Eamon reserves his most intense and ominous hostility for the, to him, most despicable Blowin of all -- the black worker hired instead of the cousin he recommended for the job, he also tries to sabotage Stephen's sobriety as well as the emotionally fragile young laborer's relationship with Eamon's erstwhile girlfriend Molly (Susan B. McConnell).
Eamon's Iago-like destructiveness stems from his own outsider status, the fact that he fits the Blowin label by virtue of having reached the threshold of forty untouched by improved economic and educational opportunities that have swept through Ireland. He's watched prosperity come to his town, bringing strangers like the British woman who now owns the house he grew up in and feels he still owns; also foreign laborers like Laurence who threaten the jobs of men like him who have failed to catch the waves of change and prosperity. This is made quite plain when the G.C. in a moment of disgust tells him "This country is flying and look at ya. You use your brains to let a grudge eat away at ya instead."
Like the general contractor of this fine play, Noone himself left the Irish town where he was born to become a Blowin in America (specifically, Boston), but unlike the G.C. he has remained comfortable with his Irish background, using it to create plays that are vivid and meaningful to theatergoers everywhere. The Blowin of Baile Gall is even stronger and more impressive than last year's The Lepers of Baile Baste. Noone has packed his two acts (4 scenes each) with almost too many dramatic confrontations but also much wonderful dialogue (though close attention must be paid to get into the thick accents). The stories of the quintet of fully rounded characterss intermesh into an engrossing, and even suspenseful drama, complete with smoking gun -- in this case a knife, a hammer and other construction worker tools.
David Sullivan maneuvers the actors towards the inevitably tragic climax without a missed beat. The acting radiates the characters' hopes and desperation, their stories add up to a profile of people anywhere who must learn to deal with change.
Colin Hammell's Eamon embodies impotent rage, yet he manages to convey, if not sympathy, a certain riveting charm. He makes us understand how his family history (his mother lost her shop to G. C's father) has made him the epitome of narrow prejudice towards outsiders likely to crop up in any tight, ethnic neighborhood.
Ciaran Crawford, who also appeared in Lepers of Baile Baste, is superb as Stephen, the quiet born again who's all too easily manipulated by Eamon. Unlike the all-male Lepers, The Blowin of Baile Gall is greatly enhanced by a female presence, with Susan McConnell giving a finely nuanced performance as the aging popular girl desperately trying to join that insider group of women with husband and children that has eluded her -- as well as avoiding tragedy at the work site where she is employed as a painter. George C. Heslin is a finely understated G. C The handsome Ato Essandoh plays Laurence with convincing intensity though director Sullivan should steer him to speak up rather than whisper as he does in several scenes.
No description of this play would be complete without a shout out for Richard Chambers' virtuoso recreation of a kitchen undergoing renovation that looks like a post-bombing scene. The scraps of wall paper, hole in the wall where a stove once stood, the crates and milk boxes to which the workers claim proprietary rights not only serve as a perfect background but as a metaphor of a decrepid social milieu undergoing a complete overhaul.
If you need further reason to see The Blowin of Baile Gall during its limited run, my husband and I discussed it all the way home -- and found more to talk about the next morning. It is that kind of post-mortems that good theater is all about.
The Lepers of Baile Baste
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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