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The Irish play Quietly finds a different voice Off Broadway
Since it moved across the ocean, Quietly has gotten less quiet. "There's only a shadow of the silences left," says co-star Declan Conlon. "The dynamic has changed."
That may sound surprising. After all, this production of Owen McCafferty's play, about a tense reunion between former enemies during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is essentially the one that premiered at Ireland's Abbey Theatre in 2012. The script is the same, and so are the director and the design team. Plus, all three cast members have returned, including Conlon as a Protestant who's haunted by a moment of teenage violence and Patrick O'Kane as the Catholic whose life was shattered by that act.
After the Abbey premiere, the troupe also remounted the show several times in the UK, so by now, you'd think the moments of silence would be permanently embedded.
But plays can be radically altered by the rooms where they're performed. And in its current run at the Irish Repertory Theatre, Quietly has made adjustments for a new home.
For instance, Irish Rep's freshly renovated theatre has a balcony, which puts the people upstairs in the back considerably further from the action than those downstairs in the front. In that configuration, the meaningful pauses and soft line deliveries that worked in other, tinier venues just aren't sustainable.
"If you're sat in the back, it's very difficult to hear it the way we had been playing it," says O'Kane. "We've had to punch it out more. In previous versions, it was like you were coming to us, like you were eavesdropping on something that was happening. Whereas it feels to us in this particular space that we're sending it out to you."
These vocal changes invite the actors to reevaluate their performances. "In smaller spaces, I came in with more of the guilt and shame, the crushed nature," says Conlon. "That energy where you're turning in on yourself led to my vocal quality being pretty quiet, so by having to push it out, it changed the dynamic of how [my character] enters. And now I'm beginning to enjoy the fact that he's coming in and letting us know that he's not going to be kicked around. For me it's interesting because I didn't explore that before."
To be sure, Conlon and O'Kane both blaze through this production, which is co-presented by the Irish Rep and the Public Theater. They rehash their grievances and political rage with the conviction of men who are masters at justifying their anger, and this makes it especially moving when they finally, just for a moment, learn to hear each other.
And that is something that never changes. No matter where it's staged, the play will always be about adversaries who briefly recognize each other as fellow citizens of the same healing country. "It's still very much a meditation on both the need for and the nature of reconciliation," says O'Kane. "It holds that up to scrutiny: What is reconciliation? Is it everybody becoming friends and giving each other hugs? Clearly not. Whatever's different now, those core things remain."
Photos by James Higgins. Top photo, L to R: Declan Conlon and Patrick O'Kane.
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