Chicago Theatre Review
Violence and Betrayal in Belfast
In a Little World of Our Own – Irish Theatre
Amidst the tense, turbulent world of Northern Ireland’s ongoing strife between Protestants and Catholics, three brothers argue, fight and attempt to hold their family together. This is easier said than done due to recent events and a promise of more growing violence. Ray is a militant member of the UDA, the Ulster Defense Association. Between his constant clashes with the Taigs, the Catholics interlopers bent on stirring up trouble in Protestant Belfast, Ray’s trying to care for both his bedridden mother, who lies dying upstairs, and Richard, his younger, special needs brother. Gordon, Ray’s older brother, is about to marry Deborah, a very religious young woman, and leave the family home. While he and Deborah have agreed to find a house with room for Richard, Ray is determined, against all odds, to keep his family together.
After a late-night party that Richard has begged Ray to let him attend, a flirtatious 15-year-old girl turns up missing. As this thriller unfolds, there are implications that Richard may have played a part in her disappearance. There’s also rumors that a Taig fellow may have lured the young girl away from the party. Suddenly, even more danger erupts as the girl’s gun-toting father, bent on revenge, goes looking for the man responsible. As the murky details become clearer, the horror of this mystery leads to a violent conclusion that will shock and devastate theatergoers.
The Midwest premiere of Irish award-winning playwright Gary Mitchell’s drama is in excellent hands. Associate Artistic Director Jeri Frederickson guides her fast-paced production with mastered experience, skill and assurance. The rapid-fire dialogue, delivered with a sharply-mastered Northern Irish accent (thanks to the work of dialect coach, Kathy Logelin), and takes a few minutes to settle comfortably on the Midwestern ear. However, audiences eventually pick up the lyrical rhythm and the unfamiliar references and terminology as the story unfolds. Ms. Frederickson alternates Mitchell’s accelerated spates of dialogue with periods of agonizing, awkward and relief-supplying silences. She builds her thriller to its surprising conclusion, while alternating moments of everyday humor with the punched-up horror.
Merje Veski’s finely-detailed scenic design makes the most of the intimate Den Theatre space. The set includes an entry hall, living and dining rooms and a tiny kitchen, with a stairway leading up to the second floor bedrooms. The house looks well lived-in, littered with empty beer cans and take-out containers, as well as with everyday furnishings, artifacts and props, provided by Ian Jerome. Smooch Medina’s lighting not only illuminates the story but adds to the tension of the play.
The five-member ensemble cast is excellent. As Ray, Matthew Isler is a wiry, seething bundle of rage, a volcano ready to erupt. His love for and devotion to Richard, his younger mentally handicapped brother, contrasts beautifully with an otherwise violent nature. It offers this character some moments of humanity, not displayed with the other characters. Mr. Isler plays this with so much care and compassion. In these quieter, almost paternal scenes with Richard, as when teaching him the finer points of playing poker, Ray shows us the young man he’d be if conflict and danger didn’t threaten outside his home. Gage Wallace, a standout in Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s recent production of “Ghosts,” is outstanding as Richard. He plays this honest young man as a lovable kid, trying to simply live a normal life in this abnormal world of hate and violence, prejudice and precariousness. In this young actor’s eyes we see the whole story unfold as he innocently tries to comprehend the horror of what’s happening.
Robert Kauzlaric plays Walter, a devoted friend of Ray and Richard’s. His intervention and assistance with the events from the night drive the family toward their inevitable decision and the play’s tragic conclusion. Jeff Duhigg and Jodi Kingsley play Gordon and Deborah, a couple whose impending marriage may or may not be the best choice for these two young people. Saddled with having to deal with Richard and his ailing mother, the troubling situation at hand, added to Gordon’s growing lack of religious devotion, may not be leading Deborah to the altar as soon as she thinks. Ms. Kingsley plays Deborah with conviction and strength, as she’s forced to bend to the will of the men around her. Mr. Duhigg becomes a young man torn between his own beliefs and his familial obligation and love.
Gary Mitchell’s long one-act is a powerful, disturbing play that sheds light on an unfamiliar world far from home. It’s taut, gritty, unrelenting and honest, while it weaves a story of family responsibility and love. The production takes us on a tense journey, a what-happened and who-done-it thrill ride that can only end, inevitably, in violence and betrayal.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 2-April 10 by the Irish Theatre of Chicago at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-398-7028 or by going to www.irishtheatreofchicago.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com