Volume 75, Number 16 | September 07 - 13, 2005

Theater

THE BLOWIN OF BAILE GALL
Irish Arts Center
553 W. 51st St.
Enters previews Sept. 8
Opens Sept. 13
212-868-4444

Photo by Richard Chambers

Susan McConnell, left, and Claran Crawford in “The Blowin of Baile Gall.”

Life as an outsider

Play inspired by personal experiences

By Jerry Tallmer

Eamon, an Irishman with an overload of grudges and a caustic tongue, sits on a crate at the construction site where he’s employed and, at a work break, fulminates against “all those feckin fugees” – i.e., refugees, immigrants from places like black Africa – “walking around our basterin’ town “[a]nd us accommodating them with our taxes. It ain’t right..”

“They’re not all black,” says Molly, the slightly overripe but still handsome woman whom Eamon used “to have a thing with,” but who now favors his young fellow worker, Wild Stevee, an introspective, insecure reforming alcoholic.

“They’re all black to me,” says Eamon. “I’ll tell you we spent eight hundred years fightin’ for independence, and then two years in a civil war killing ourselves because of it. I don’t need no black bastards coming over here takin’ my job, dirtin’ our streets, stealin’ from us and sleepin’ with our women,”

“You’re some primitive,” says Molly.

“Primitives don’t have my vocabulary, Dolleen,” Eamon snaps back. And he’s right. That vitriolic tongue of his is never still, never stops needling Molly, or Stevee (whom Eamon refers to as “Jehovah”), or G.C., the worried general contractor who is their boss and whom Eamon calls “Yank” for the years the man spent in the United States. Above all, Eamon has his verbal claws in Laurence, the handsome young black whom Molly has befriended and who works beside them to raise money to bring his ailing mother over from Africa.

Put these several people near one another, on and off their proprietary milk crates, give them a knife, a hammer, a sharpened trowel, some mistaken suppositions, and you have “The Blowin of Baile Gall,” a play by Irish-born, Boston-based 35-year-old Ronan Noone that is itself like a knife waiting, waiting, waiting to strike.

It enters previews September 8 for a Tuesday, September 13, opening — under the aegis of Gabriel Byrne and the direction of David Sullivan — at the Irish Arts Center on West 51st Street, hard by the Hudson River.

“Blowin” – no apostrophe — doesn’t mean blowing up, or anything like that. In the west of Ireland, where playwright Noone comes from, it means something like “an outsider” – somebody not from here. Somebody, perhaps, from Africa.

Ronan Noone, with his full head of curly black hair, and his “blue-ish eyes maybe,” doesn’t look 35. More like 19. The reason there are so many bloody-minded Irish plays, he says, is that “Ireland is such a bloody-minded place.” Then he dryly appends a throwaway: “Let Brian [‘Philadelphia Here I Come’] Friel take care of the rest.”

It was after a summer or two of painting houses on our own country’s Martha Vineyard that Noone went back, in 2002, for a visit to his hometown, Clifton, Ireland.

“I didn’t meet any people of any other nation where I grew up,” he says. “It’s a white town.

“One morning, standing at Mass, I saw this young black family, a father and his son – a boy about four years of age. Not far away there was another father and son, whites, about the same age.

“The black child went over to play with the white child – and the white child hit him in the face. I didn’t know why. Because the black child looked strange, perhaps.

“There’s always the same kind of bigotry, here, there, everywhere. America more so, because it’s not as homogenous as Ireland. There are black immigrants all through Ireland actually,

“Well,” says Noone, “that was the trigger. I’d worked on a few building sites in my time, and I realized how people sat around on milk crates at lunch breaks and so forth. If you sat on somebody else’s, they told you to get off. So these two things came together – that incident in the church, and milk crates.”

Ronan Noone, the son of an engineer and a mother whose job was to stay home and take care of her husband, her son, and three daughters – “Some job!” the son murmurs in irony and awe – was born April 7, 1970, in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland.

While at Galway University he started free-lancing for several small-town newspapers. (Free-lancing, says the interviewer, a mug’s game. “Tell me about it,” Noone replies.) Came to the United States “to do anything but journalism” and found himself bartending and writing poetry (“ ’twas doggerel”) on Martha’s Vineyard.

Wrote a play, “The Lepers of Baile Baiste”; submitted it to Boston University’s MFA program, where it came to the attention of Kate Snodgrass and Nobel Laureate playwright Derek Walcott.

They liked it and invited him into the program. “Lepers” won a National Student Playwriting Award and was done at the Kennedy Center in Washington. No, Noone wasn’t in it. “I never act, but I thought I could make a career out of playwriting. Like a fool,” he murmurs, then quickly tacks on: “Don’t have me say that.”

It was published by Samuel French, and “it was while all that was going on that I wrote this play, ‘The Blowin,’ and another … and another … and another … Just kept going. Can’t tell you why.”

How many plays altogether so far?”

“Short? Long? I guess about 20.”

The characters of “Blowin” – Eamon, Molly, Stephen, G.C., Laurence, played by Colin Hamell, Susan McConnell, Ciaran Crawford, George Heflin, Ato Essandoh – all came out of Noone’s own head.

How much of devilish Eamon is in you?

“Well, they all are. You’ve got a lot of time, winters on Martha’s Vineyard, to create a lot of characters – and sometimes it’s juicy to create a malignant character.”

The character G.C. (General Contractor) is not malignant; if anything, he is gravely put upon as a Blowin, an outsider – because of his years in the United States – and, more cruelly yet, as a desperately non-drinking alcoholic.

Do you drink, Noone is asked.

He shrugs and touches his beer bottle.

Ronan Noone and his wife Jessica Roche met on Martha’s Vineyard. They are the parents of 12-weeks-old Molly.

Named for the character in the play?

“Maybe. I doubt it,” says her father as he boldly sets forth to navigate a subway to West 50th Street in a large, strange city where there are more black and white faces than in Boston, Dublin, and Clifton, Ireland, all thrown together.

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