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.
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