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The Belle of Belfast

The Irish Repertory Theater’s thrilling new production about the plight of a nation in crisis will stir your emotions, make you laugh, make you cry and make you want to come back for more.

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Kate Lydic and Arielle Hoffman in a scene from “The Belle of Belfast” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Kate Lydic and Arielle Hoffman in a scene from “The Belle of Belfast” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Stefan Woych, Critic

Belfast in 1985 was in turmoil. Catholics and Protestants were at war. Each one took his side willy nilly without questioning it. Some fought, some ran away. Others found coping methods to justify and deal with the craziness. The Belle of Belfast, written by Nate Rufus Edelman and produced by The Irish Repertory Theater, looks at three generations of Belfast Catholics and how they rationalize and deal with the external hell, as well as their internal conflict between right and wrong.

The ample set by John McDermott is an intelligent divide between interior and exterior life, the run down streets of Belfast and a humble, wooden and warm rectory. Contemplation goes on in both places, be it perils of war or morals. Famed film director Claudia Weill returning to the New York stage establishes this well. Each character has his or her place and is well defined. Weill has a clear vision of the conflict at hand. Impressive music, explosions and street noise punctuate the scenes artfully with sound design by Daniel Kluger.

Full of hate and prejudice, everyone creates mistakes trying to make sense of it all. Playwright Edelman does not have any answers, only questions. He presents them with style, ease and humor. Edelman creates rich characters, Anne (played by Kate Lydic) being the focal point. Orphaned as a result of a bombing, Anne is a 17-year-old spitfire who rebels at every turn. She lives with her elderly great-aunt Emma (Patricia Conolly), who finds refuge in drink. A good Catholic, Emma abides by the commandments and hates Protestants. She brings Anne to confession after a long absence. Ben Reilly (Hamish Allan-Headley), a 35-year-old priest, hears confession. Edelman’s dialogue is natural, fluid and funny. The characters curse with great comic effect while revealing layers of history and personal dilemma. Father Reilly sees potential in Anne. He shows tender concern. The lonely and confused teenager falls in love. The three generations disagree, yet they are intertwined and share a religion and a cause. Edelman’s sensitive story is full of raw emotion.

Patricia Conolly and Hamish Allan-Headley in a scene from “The Belle of Belfast” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Patricia Conolly and Hamish Allan-Headley in a scene from “The Belle of Belfast” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The cast of five do a marvelous job. Lydic gives a commanding performance as Anne. Devilishly saucy, passionate and funny, she moves the audience. Allan-Headley is convincing and touching as a priest who cares, and as a flawed man. Broadway veteran Conolly’s comic timing is impeccable, still striking a cord when the mood turns dark, a fine actress. Billy Meleady wows the audience as Dermott, an elderly alcoholic priest who sees the world as black and white. In a lesser role, Arielle Hoffman does a fine job as Anne’s best friend Ciara. However, Rick Sordelet’s blocking is awkward when the two girls fight. In addition to being unnatural, it is staged on a platform and at times looks as if the girls will fall off. Appropriate costumes by Terese Wadden reflect the period and social status to complete the picture.

The Irish Repertory Theater can always be counted on for good theater. The Belle of Belfast is a sterling example.

The Belle of Belfast (through June 7, 2015)
Irish Repertory Theatre
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-727-2737 or visit http://www.irishrep.org
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission

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