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A CurtainUp Review
Defender of the Faith
By Elyse Sommer
Though Defender of the Faith is set in the same era as Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, don't expect the sort of black comedy with which McDonagh imbues his plays. The darkness that permeates Defender is unremittingly grim with its , focus on how conflicts like the long period of violence that so long devastated Northern Ireland can destroy a community, rip family and friendship ties asunder and cause ordinary humans to behave like depraved animals.
The play is well served by director Ciarán O'Reilly's understated build-up of the explosive nervousness on the farm straddling the border of Northern and Southern Ireland and the all male six-member ensemble. It takes a bit for American ears to adjust to the thick Irish accents but not too long to catch on to the cracks in set designer Charles Corcoran's finely detailed, painterly recreation of a modest farmhouse kitchen which also flips around for several scenes in the farm's barn with its decidedly less than state of the art equipment.
A chain link fence at one side of the kitchen and Zachary Williamson's evocative sound design serve as menacing reminder of the conflict overarching the dailyness of the character's lives. As we sort out who's who —the gruff head of the household known only as Father (Anto Nolan), his two sons, young Danny (Matt Ball) and older brother Thomas (Luke Kirby)— we also become attuned to the tragic events (another brother's death a year earlier and the mother's confinement to a mental institution) that probably have more than a little to do with the uneasy relationship between the father and the older son. That relationship takes on an icy, dangerous edge with the arrival of J.J. (David Landsbury), an Irish Republican Army operative who's come to sniff out an Informer or "tout" responsible for a failed bombing.
Except for the violent last twenty minutes or so, the drama moves along quietly but it's that very quiet that makes the suspense palpable. The standout in the excellent ensemble and its pivotal character is Luke Kirby as the young man whose despair and suspicion vis-a-vis his brother's death leads to an ending that seems to aspire to Greek tragedy and a final scene that leaves lots of unanswered questions.
Happily, the long festering " troubles" have ended, thanks to a healthy and growing economy. However, the bitter memories of those days have undoubtedly left an indelible mark on those who lived through them and, sadly, seemingly insoluble conflicts in other parts of the world give stories like this constant new meaning.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide