Set in the Northern Ireland capital in 1985 amid bombings by the Provisional IRA, Nate Rufus Edelman’s The Belle of Belfast is an old-fashioned play in the best way. It tells a funny, sad, affecting and deep tale of forbidden passion and survival amid senseless violence through a straightforward sequence of exceptionally well-acted scenes, sharply and sensitively written.
Directed inventively by the sure-handed Claudia Weill, the story begins in the confessional of a 35-year-old priest (Hamish Allan-Headley), where sinless old Emma Malloy (a wonderfully droll Patricia Conolly) persists in owning up to nonexistent trespasses. Things get serious when Emma’s volative, emotionally scarred grand-niece Anne (Kate Lydic) confesses to impure thoughts that take Father Reilly aback.
Ironically, the past and present violence continues to take its toll on the lines of these Northern Ireland Catholics, in which cause they are putatively carried out. They’ve made 17-year-old Anne a firebrand, orphaned by a bomb, struggling valiantly to create a place for love in her life and rise above the tragedies of the Troubles.
The character of Father Reilly feels a little less believable, even a bit stereotypical at first. But Allan-Headley makes the conflicted priest easy to warm to and a stolid balance to Anne’s impulsive emotionalism. Meanwhile Billy Meleady as his older priestly colleague and Arielle Hoffman in a touching pearl of a performance as Anne’s relatively shy friend Ciara do fine work in support. Meleady gives us one of the most entertaining drunk, cursing clerics you’re likely ever to see, but also reveals a very serious and dedicated side to the character. When he erupts in anger, it’s as transfixing as Anne’s stark command to Father Reilly to “Talk!”
Though it premiered in 2012 in Los Angeles and was developed in part through the Irish Rep’s reading series the following year, The Belle of Belfast shows an old-fashioned devotion to dramatic storytelling without avant-garde trappings or technical special effects, unless you count the projection of black-and-white photos of the dreadful aftermath of the real bombings that inspired this admirable play. Clearly not thrown by having to adapt to a temporary home at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square, the Irish Rep has produced another winner. The Belle of Belfast runs through June 7. Get tickets online or call OvationTix at 212-727-2737.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00BJ0OO7A][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1561310700][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1849085250][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0807002178][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1884479464]