Terror, Through Irish Eyes

Belfast Blues and The Good Thief in Repertory
at the Rubicon

by Sara Barbour

It isn’t every day that two tales from Ireland arrive
simultaneously on California’s doorstep. What with our inevitable
local preoccupations, and the situation of the world at large
growing steadily more precarious, Ireland is not necessarily
uppermost in our minds. Nevertheless, two wonderful recent Irish
plays are opening this week at the Rubicon Theatre, and both
Belfast Blues and The Good Thief strike timely
notes with the issues they raise. Be it through a young girl’s
journey to womanhood in a city riddled with religious strife
(Blues), or by means of a hired thug’s sudden and
desperate change of heart (Thief), both of these
critically acclaimed productions successfully address the more
subtle terrors of violence in contemporary society.

Belfast Blues, the award-winning solo play written and
performed by Belfast native Geraldine Hughes, opens tonight (August
3). It centers on the author’s impoverished and war-shadowed
childhood in the 1970s and ’80s, and is populated by her
impressions of a comfortably odd mixture of characters including
her family, friends, and eccentric neighbors. Hughes depicts her
journey through adolescence mostly from a child’s point of view, in
what she said was, for her, a “normal situation,” where children
took their perilous surroundings in stride with “maturity and
stamina.” In her words, the girls and boys of Belfast were just
“kids trying to be kids.”

When she premiered Belfast Blues in Los Angeles in
2003, Hughes said she did not expect it to play for more than the
several weeks for which it was initially scheduled. The play won
Ovation, Garland, and L.A. Drama Critics Circle awards, and has
gone on to be produced off-Broadway in New York and all over
Europe. Hughes has been celebrated for her perceptive ability as a
performer to easily distinguish each of her characters with
well-crafted, distinctive mannerisms. For the Rubicon production,
Belfast Blues will be directed by Emmy-winning actress
Carol Kane. Together, Kane and Hughes re-create the bleak yet
humorous ambience of Hughes’s childhood in a war zone. The small
tragedies of Hughes’s underprivileged upbringing provide a
bittersweet counterpoint to the story’s background, which is the
ongoing battle between Ireland’s competing faiths.

The other Irish play that the Rubicon will be producing in
repertory with Belfast Blues is writer Conor McPherson’s
The Good Thief, which opens August 10. McPherson’s play is
similar to Hughes’s in that a single actor carries the play, but
different in that it is a true monologue said by one character. The
story unwinds through the eyes and voice of a nameless Dubliner,
who reveals to the audience the horrors and hopelessness of his
dark and violent world. This seasoned delinquent’s latest job of
terror has ended in accidental murder, leaving him responsible for
the victim’s now-widowed wife and fatherless child. Actor Conor
Lovett will bring a steely intensity to this disturbing work, which
will be directed by renowned Irish director Judy Hegarty

At first glance, it may appear that the characters who bare
their souls in these two plays possess such unique experiences that
they could have little in common with audiences here. Although most
of us can already identify with such broad themes as family,
friendship, and sudden but necessary changes of heart, these plays
attain a greater degree of relevance when considered in relation to
contemporary world politics. They both go beyond being simply their
respective author’s views of their Irish homes and neighborhoods to
reflect on what has become a common experience in far too many
places worldwide — growing up in a country where terrorism and
warfare are part of everyday life. Given their common legacy of
religious strife, who is to say that the rolling green hills of
“troubled” Ireland don’t at times find an echo in the silhouettes
of the dunes in the Middle East?

The violence in which these Irish authors were raised may have
subsided, but conflicts similar in their religious basis continue
to flourish in other countries around the globe, making Hughes and
McPherson’s works windows to a different world — one which it has
become increasingly necessary for us to understand. As Geraldine
Hughes, who lived with war and terrorism for most of her childhood,
pointed out, “A child is a child no matter what. … Kids have no
choice in war, and yet they suffer as much as anyone else.”

4-1-1 Belfast Blues plays Aug.
3 -Sept. 12; The Good Thief shows Aug. 10 - Sept. 17.
Visit rubicontheatre.org or call 667-2900.


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