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Paulanne Simmons

Terrorism and the Cause

''Defender of the Faith''
Directed by Ciaran O'Reilly
The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd St.
Opened March 8, 2007
Tues. thru Sat 8 p.m., matinees Wed., Sat. & Sun. 3 p.m.
$60 & $55 (212) 727-2737
Closes April 22, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 10, 2007

The events of Sept 11, bombings in Europe and the situation in the Middle East have all increased awareness of the affects terrorism has on the general population. Much less examined is what acts of violence do to the perpetrator, the person who throws the bomb, pulls the trigger or wields the club.

Stuart Carolan's ''Defender of the Faith,'' now in its American premiere at the Irish Rep takes a stark look at how terrorist activities destroy one family in Northern Ireland.

Right Matt Ball and leftt Luke Kirby in ''Defender of the Faith''. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Ciaran O'Reilly directs this gripping story with passion and compassion. The play begins with the two brothers, Danny (Matt Ball) and Thomas (Luke Kirby) playing an innocent game of make believe. Then their father (Anto Nolan) walks into the house, and with him comes the tension that builds and never lets up until the explosive ending.

Set in the 1980s, five years after the 1981 hunger strikes, Northern Ireland is riddled with political and ethnic strife. The IRA is surrounded by British police and infiltrated by informers. When a bomb mysteriously doesn't go off, J.J. (David Lansbury), an IRA investigator is sent down to find out who has compromised the mission.

The father suspects it may be his longtime friend and employee, Barney (Peter Rogan). Thomas thinks it may be his father. Both Barney and his father have been ''lifted'' by the British, and no one knows how they may have been compromised.

But Thomas has more against his father than disloyalty to the cause. His father is a nasty bully, who is somehow implicated in the death of a brother and the mental problems of his mother. He picks on Danny and belittles Thomas. In fact the only thing that seems to hold this family together is a mutual hatred of the British.

Luke Kirby. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Part thriller, part psychological drama, most of the action in ''Defender of the Faith'' concerns attempts to either find out or conceal the truth. As there are no real facts to go on, the play unravels more like a Dostoyevsky novel than an Agatha Christie mystery. Eventually, the truth is rooted out through the kind of tactics terrorists know best, intimidation and violence.

The fate of this play lies mostly in the hands of Kirby and Nolan. These roles are difficult because the play is too short to present fully-developed characters (which would not be necessary in the context of the play, anyway), so there is nothing to mitigate their coarseness and brutality. But Kirby and Nolan play brilliantly against each other. They make father and son an equal match. And if they are not exactly lovable they incite the kind of pity and horror tragedy is made of.

Father and son are both victims and victimizers, both caught up in forces they cannot control and do not really understand. Both are casualties of their own hatred. Watching their tragic dance is electrifying and draining. And unforgettable.

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