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Field of Broken Dreams"The Field"
Directed by Ciaran O'Reilly
The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd St.
Wed. & Sat. 3, 8 p.m.,Thurs. & Fri. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
$50-$55 (212) 727-2737
Closes July 18, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 7, 2008
Malachy Cleary (left) & Paddy Croft (right) in "Field."
Back in the 1960s and throughout much of Irish history human beings starved when they had no land. This accounts for how fiercely many people fought to acquire and retain whatever holdings they needed to survive. But there's much more than mere acquisitiveness, or even greed, behind John B. Keane's "The Field," now in revival at The Irish Repertory Theatre.
The play takes place in Carriagthomond, a small village in southwest Ireland. Most of the action unwinds in what was the center of many small Irish communities, the neighborhood bar.
In this case, the bar is owned and run by Mick Flanagan (Malachy Cleary), with the help of his wife, Maimie (the superb Orlagh Cassidy) and his son, Leamy (Paul Nugent). Mick, however, is not only the barkeep, he is also the village auctioneer. The plot is set in motion when Maggie Butler (veteran Paddy Croft) walks into the bar and asks Mick to auction off a field, her only remaining asset, so she can supplement her widow's pension.
Mick and the bar regular, "The Bird" O'Donnell (Ken Jennings) immediately realize there's going to be trouble. For the past few years, the village bully, "The Bull" McCabe (Marty Maguire), has been renting the field from the widow and grazing his cattle on it. He will not be willing to purchase the land at market value or let anyone else purchase it.
McCabe intimidates Mick into agreeing to a scheme in which only he will bid for the land, and he terrorizes the villagers into keeping quiet about the swindle. But then William Dee (Chandler Williams), a stranger whose lawyer had told him about the sale, enters the bar and announces that he is determined to buy the land for industrial purposes, and is will to pay any price.
From this moment on, director Ciaran O'Reilly never lets the tension abate. McCabe, with his passive-aggressive son, Tadhg (Tim Ruddy) in tow, summons his friends and relatives, who comprise much of the village, to back him as he mounts a campaign, which includes threats and violence, against his competitor.
Even the parish priest, Father Murphy (the compelling Craig Baldwin), whose fiery sermon opens the second act, cannot put enough fear of God into the villagers to break the wall of silence that surrounds and protects McCabe. But the greatest strength of the play is not so much in the action as in the ambivalence of the complex characters.
Mick, a bully when it comes to his own wife (who has borne him nine children) and child (whom he treats like servant), nevertheless has some sense of justice and is only persuaded to commit an unlawful and immoral act when McCabe makes it clear that he will suffer personally and financially if he resists.
Maggie, a spirited woman, who defies her brutish, boorish husband and stands up to the law, grudgingly submits to McCabe's reign of terror. She begs her son, who is ashamed of his father's cowardice, not to inform the police of what he know about McCabe. She tells Leamy that once she was afraid of nothing, but "a child makes a prisoner of a woman, and I have nine."
But the most complex character is McCabe, a violent, ruthless man who once beat his wife senseless but has a tender love of animals and a fierce devotion to his land. He is capable of the kind of poetry Irish playwrights best know how to put in the mouths of their characters: McCabe takes his son to the field in the quiet of the night and asks him to listen to "the first growth of the grass, the first music man ever heard," He is not beneath pity, even for his victims.
If "The Field" were merely about the thirst for land, it would be a fine play. But it is also about terrorism, human frailty and guilt. And this is what makes it great.
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