David Ganly and Niall
Buggy (back) Photos
by Patrick Redmond
On Blueberry Hill
By Ron Cohen
Blueberry Hill is a
testament to the power of acting that’s both skilled and inspired. This Irish
drama, in a production from Ireland’s award-winning Fishamble theater company,
is basically two interlocking monologues, each of the two actors delivering
them directly to the audience on a set that’s evocatively lit but is little
more than a plain double-decker bunkbed in what is ostensibly a prison cell.
playwright Sebastian Barry has written an intriguing semi-gothic tale of
violent acts, revenge, forgiveness and redemption, overflowing with piquant
detail and infectious Irish lyricism. Still, it is up to the performers – Niall
Buggy and David Ganly -- to make the outpouring of words come alive, and they
do so majestically, performing with the precision that might be demanded of an
intricate piece of chamber music, while at the same time exposing the layers of
humanity that make up their characters.
PJ, a large-sized, seemingly thoughtful fellow, occupying the lower bunk and
the first to speak. He reminisces affectingly about his rural childhood, raised
by his widowed mother. “Everyone went to mass, everyone believed in God.”
Niall Buggy Fishamble
the upper bunk, Buggy plays Christy, an older and slighter, almost wiry fellow,
with a playful, spikey attitude, who also recalls his youth, an impoverished
growing up in Dublin. He relates how he traveled to England to make money
working in the construction business, returned home to Ireland to meet his wife
and raise a family. It was a good life -- “having my pints in Carneys in the
evening, plenty of money and mates, enjoying the work on the buildings…It’s a
special time when you’re young and your kids are small.”
introductory monologs with their pungent observations on life and living draw
you into the two men; you like them and care about them, and when circumstances
draw them together in a horrendous bonding, it’s both chilling and
play grows darker, we learn how PJ joined a seminary, falling into a
relationship that should not be with a fellow student named Peadar. “Did I not
grievously love him, or did I resent that love, as being sinful, indeed
prohibited by the state, public opprobrium, deepest shame, prison sentences?”
The two take a jaunt to a rugged island. Paedar, a fellow of “blissful
youthfulness,” stands on the edge of a cliff. And PJ, in a moment of blind
motivation, pushes him to his death.
that the connection between PJ and Christy is made clear. Peadar was Christy’s
son; the man is possessed by grief. “He was going to be the best priest that
ever Ireland saw,” Christy mourns his son. “In fact in my opinion my son was a
sort of saint,”
his bloody revenge, a crime that cuts to the quick of PJ, and, thanks to a
malicious jailer, they wind up together in the cell we see them in. How they
overcame their hatred, at first explosive, is detailed by the two men. It’s an
exalted demonstration of the pliability of the human soul, eventually taking
them to something like love, elevated and yet brought down-to-earth as they
celebrate a moment of joy listening on a taped-up radio to a popular Irish disc
jockey celebrate Fats Domino’s birthday by playing his rendition of “On
This is a
stunning and eventful narrative, yet made totally credible by Barry’s writing
and the arresting work of the two actors, beautifully balanced one against the
other under the direction of Jim Culleton, Fishamble’s artistic director.
by Mark Galione helps to sharpen focus as the narrative moves back and forth
between the two players ensconced on the spare but effective set design of
Sabine Dargent, also responsible for the costumes.
times, it should be noted, when Buggy’s intensity takes his voice to such a low
volume level you may have to strain to hear him, if you can hear him at all.
Nevertheless, the magnetism of this esteemed actor keeps the audience rapt.
In fact, at
the performance attended, the exceptional attentive stillness that both Ganly
and Buggy engendered in their audience throughout the 100-minute-plus
no-intermission playing time became a memorable part of the event as well.
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