Photo Joan Marcus
By Eugene Paul
very long ago if Jez Butterworth’s deeply enthralling, sold out hit play were
to have arrived on these shores we might have looked at it as a trenchant,
troubling example of the sins of hatreds handed down Irish generations, an
aching chronicle foreign to this American soil. Now, it’s absolutely
frightening, spellbinding, a warning of doom. These warm, lovely people, from
that delicious baby to wheelchair bound Granny, the whole of stalwart,
struggling Quinn Carney’s extended family, full of joy and juice and spirits
and sorrows, the vigorous generations under one roof are in peril and they
suspect nothing. We know more than they do. In a raw, swift, dour opening
scene, we have seen a priest blackmailed into betraying his trust.
It’s 1981 in Northern Ireland, late summer,
time for the Carney clan to get the harvest in and survive another day. The
great, rural Armagh farmhouse kitchen,, the living center of their home given
us by designer Rob Howell is chock- a -block family , family , family strewn,
from wall mounted childrens’ drawings to massive, ancient Aga stove, to draft
curtains at doorways, all kinds of clutter and ever present, eau de vie,
bottles of it. The children learn early though samplings what keeps their grand
parents chipper. And parents, for that matter. Fortyish Quinn (Paddy
Considine) is wildly jitterbugging to a blast of juke box music and whirling
Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) around away from her kitchen chores. There’s a
closeness there you can’t miss.
(© Joan Marcus)
when acerb Aunt Pat (Dearbhla Molloy) makes her late morning appearance, her
cigarette already hanging from her lip, her tight , white curls a dead giveaway
of her tight bound nature, her acid comments about the Carney hangers on sets
Caitlin back on her heels and drives Oisin (Rob Malone) Catlin’s son, out of
the room. Seamus Carney, Quinn’s brother, Caitlin’s husband, disappeared ten
years ago. Nobody knew what happened. Caitlin and her six year old son expected
to wait a few days, a week, a month for his return. They’ve been there ten
years. And Seamus’s body has been found, a bullet in the back of his skull.
the Troubles, as the long bitter Irish-British conflict has been called in
Northern Ireland, savage echo of the Troubles of sixty years ago in the South,
the bullet holes down in Dublin now a tourist attraction. But playwright
Butterworth’s Troubles are unmistakably an ongoing curse and now, the Carney
household is threatened by the Muldoon (Stuart Graham), head of the rebel
faction who demands obeisance or suffer the consequences. And now we know why
Father Horrigan (Charles Dale) bent. Mary Carney (Genevieve Reilly) the wan,
tired, exquisite wife of Quinn, mother of the lovely Carney brood, is his
sister. Hostages. The Muldoon has come to confront Quinn.
Justin Edwards and
Peggy the Goose (center) in a scene from The Ferryman.
(© Joan Marcus)
family of performers is invested in their story, steeped in their characters,
The three hour and fifteen minute play flies by. Director Sam Mendes lures
superb performances throughout the large cast, each individual character
polished brimstone bright. Fionnula Flanagan, lost in the past as Aunt Maggie
Far Away, Tom Glynn-Carney as Shane Corcoran, ferociously young, seduced by the
Muldoon, brainlessly amoral, Mark Lambert making a feast out of whiskied Uncle
Patrick Carney, huge Justin Edwards creating a heart breaking highlight wooing
a confounded Caitlin. And his magic with apples! And his comity with
rabbits and an enormous goose!
delightful Matilda Lawler as precocious Honor Carney. Fra Fee, Niall Wright,
Quinn’s older sons, farmers, salt of the earth, and Quinn’s and Mary’s other
daughters, the leggy young winners Brooklyn Shuck and Willow McCarthy and I
don’t know which utterly charming six month old actor of the four who take
turns to play the baby Bobby but he captured me. And Carla Langley, and Conor
MacNeill and Michael Quinton McArthur, pearls all. You end up cheering them
every one, even with pain in your heart, ready to pay the Ferryman to cross the
river Styx. And when the Muldoon and his goons arrive at the Carney house, the
payment is in horror for them all. What a stab of a play.
At The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street. Tickets:
$59-$175. 3hrs, 15 min. 212-239-6200. Thru Feb 17, 2019.