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Monday, September 14, 2009

Review- The Pride of Parnell Street (1st Irish 2009)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

It isn't always the big tragedies that can destroy a marriage, sometimes it's the small heartbreaks that can fracture a man's spirit and set off a domino effect that leaves a marriage in shambles. Welcome to Parnell Street, Dublin, where jobs are of the odd variety, entertainment comes in the form of pints of ale, love starts young and tragedy even younger. Welcome to people who find their redemption or their ruin in a game of football (or, of course, what the rest of the world calls Football... and what the Americans call Soccer).

The Pride of Parnell Street by Sebastian Barry (directed by Jim Culleton) starts off softly, with Janet Brady (the hauntingly earnest Mary Murray) waxing dreamily about "In them days..." back in 1990 when her marriage was new and her boys were little; when her husband Joe (played by Aidan Kelly with the sadness of a man who lost everything but still remembers how happy his everything once made him) was what they called a Midday Man. Which is to say he was nothing more than a simple crook, waking at midday and robbing small items from cars in the street, then selling what he found to the Afternoon Man. Sure, it sounds a little sketchy and even a little dodgy, but to hear Janet tell of it, it's almost noble.

Tragedy strikes when their oldest of three sons, little six year old Billy, is run over by a truck and killed. And here, where another family might break apart, or tear each other to pieces, laying blame or finding fault, all that happens is they mourn and move on, secure in their relationship and in their love.

Perhaps in a delayed reaction, however, when Ireland loses the World Cup to Italy that year Joe loses his mind; they all did... "When the Irish team lost, the lads suddenly knew what was what. When the Irish team were winning they could pretend they were winning, but when they lost, they knew they were losers too -- had never been winners in the first place." Joe comes home and in the early sunlight of daybreak he beats Janet, blind with a sort of rage that had never been a part of his nature before, and breaks something deep inside her... something more precious than blood vessels or bones. He breaks her trust in him. He breaks her heart.

From that moment on, Janet's life and Joe's life never connect again, though on some sub cellular level there's no breaking them apart. Even the fact that Joe is dying (something that's both obvious from his demeanor, dress and countenance, as well as something he addresses almost the minute we meet him) can not create enough of a chasm to keep their bond from stretching over the years, although even the fact that he is dying can't absolve him of his worst sin. Not in Janet's eyes. Not in his own. "I wrote a hundred times... and said a hundred times I loved her and I was sorry... but you know, a hundred letters can't wipe out a sin... but also even the worst sin can't wipe out a love..."

The story of Janet and Joe, of Parnell Street, of pride - Irish pride, family pride, too much pride to stay, too much pride to beg - is told in contrasting and sequential monologues. As Janet and Joe trade off their 20 minutes their time with the audience grows more personal, more honest, deeper, more tragic. Sunny moments are sprinkled among the sadness in rare bursts; both Janet and Joe never stop loving each other, they never stop idealizing the "good old days" but neither of them look away from what circumstances brought them to the present day.

Sebastian Barry's writing is so honest, so intimate, that there are moments when Janet could be talking to her priest, or her psychiatrist (if they had enough money to afford one). Just because they are simple people with simple ways doesn't mean their emotions are simple. Barry layers in the heart and soul of the characters in the smallest ways; Janet recalling a moment when Joe used to wheel his young son along singing Thin Lizzie songs, or when Joe talks about how patient he was when Janet was overwhelmed and frustrated when she didn't understand how to breastfeed her firstborn. It's these little glimpses, these memories, that flesh out Janet and Joe till we see them from the inside out.

Keeping the two characters apart from each other, yet always talking about each other, creates an affinity between Janet and Joe that runs deeper than if they'd spent the whole play talking directly to each other.

The Pride of Parnell Street's two stars, Mary Murray and Aidan Kelly, are so invested in their characters, and so brave in their honesty that they can take you from laughter to tears in a very short span of time. They both gave dignity and even breeding to two very regular Dubliners who probably represent a thousand others just like them. On the surface, there's nothing spectacular about either of them. And told second hand he's a petty thief who beats his wife, turns to drugs, and now lays dying, while she's a single mother of two scrubbing out rooms to keep her boys in school. Very ordinary. But scratch that surface, and sit face to face, and there is no doubt who or what the Pride of Parnell Street is.

1st Irish 2009 and fishamble present
The Pride of Parnell Street
Sept 1- Oct 4, 2009
59E59 Theaters

For tickets, schedule and more information on the 1st Irish Festival, visit

59E59 Theaters | 59 East 59th St | Manhattan.

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