The West Belfast street crowd mills about you in the dark, cavernous space. Excited shouts break out, and you catch the contagious rush of danger as people tumble past. Amid clangor, smoke, and gunshots, you see a house suddenly alight and roughly wakened parents wail that the British are coming for their teenage son.
Written and performed mainly by Catholic activists, with assistance from several theater professionals, Binlids is not the pedantic message piece you find with so many political plays. One-sided it may be; one-note it is not. The writers make no argument, but aim to tell what it was like for them–Irish Catholics maligned in the press as “animals”–to live through the last 30 years of violence, from the internment of alleged terrorists, through the prison hunger strikes, up to the present peace initiatives.
This they achieve, in visceral scene after scene, where the (mostly standing) audience is swept up in marches and funerals, handed leaflets, and shaken by gun blasts and bodies hitting the ground. While some of this happens in the audience pit, most scenes blaze up on five raised stages scattered around Angel Orensanz’s lofty theater.
The vignettes range from intimate, poignant moments to mass hysteria, from gallows humor to euphoria and grief. The 13-member cast plays many roles, and some of the acting is extraordinary. Neighborhood housewives tease a wet-behind-the-ears Welsh soldier who, clueless, repeats his lesson that they’re “Fenian scum.” A young husband is harrowingly tortured until he is unrecognizable to himself, his “eyes like pissholes in the snow.” A mother stoically cradles the body of her 13-year-old daughter, shot while buying a quart of milk.
Director Pam Brighton has harnessed the raw anger and passionate camaraderie of the community for a production of tremendous immediacy. There is some flagging in the latter part, but she employs a host of theatrical effects, including choral recitation and songs, to vary the pace and mood and enliven the history. It is a remarkable accomplishment.
Director Pamela Berlin, on the other hand, has first-rate professional actors to work with, but, alas, much less authentic material in Edward Napier’s ‘Til the Rapture Comes. This play about a Seconal-addicted Southern wife and mother in the 1970s feels as if it raided Tennessee Williams, then dragged the scraps through a series of TV problem-dramas.
Napier shows flashes of both originality and humor, but his story keeps sagging into the suds. Althea Dale is supposed to be holding down a job as a nurse, but we see her only at home, strung out in her negligee. The anguished exchanges between wife and long-suffering husband, and between mother and angelic young son, are eye-rollingly banal, but Napier has written much zestier dialogue for scenes between Althea and her testosterone-juiced teenage son and for her motor-mouthed, white-trash housekeeper.
These episodes are almost reason enough to see the play. Pamela Payton-Wright makes the most of Althea’s histrionic, charming Southern belle, and Cynthia Darlow’s Petunia, spitting cigarettes and tough love, is a treat, while Zach Shaffer smolders and wisecracks appealingly as older son Willy. Berlin does wrest the best from them, but her direction veers toward notes as fake as the script, from the out-of-place country fiddling that opens the play to the sappy strings that close it.