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Theatre Review
by Harvey Perr
Defender of the Faith
now playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre
The Irish theater can often seem generic, its intrinsic subject matter possessing its own peculiar inevitability. And yet, even when this is true, and I think it is in “Defender of the Faith,” it does not diminish the unique voice of its authors. The “troubles” have been creating a strong and persuasive body of artistic work that have stood the test of time and continue to exert their power in each new work that emerges from this ethos. These plays seem to be written as much in sorrow as in anger and provide clear proof that political anguish can always be a spur to genuine creativity. And when the tormented relationships of fathers and sons are thrown into the stew, as it is in this play, a dark pain stays with you after you leave the theater. We must thank The Irish Repertory Theatre for being faithful to the genre and, even better, for providing Stuart Carolan’s play such a loving production. Mr. Carolan has written a fine play and, under Ciaran O’Reilly’s sensitive direction, it engages our interest immediately, and despite that nagging sense of the inevitable, it moves, like a juggernaut, towards its disturbing and moving climax.
Of course, the play centers around a “tout,” or, as he is more commonly known, an informer, and while there may be no doubt as to who that informer is, this play, which takes place on a farm somewhere on the border of Northern and Southern Ireland in the 1980s, creates enough secrets and mysteries to make the recriminations not only plausible but  fascinating. A good deal of the excitement in experiencing this play comes from the actors who are, to a man, extraordinarily gifted. There is the father, played with quiet ferocity by Anto Nolan, who is maintaining a farm, raising two sons by himself, mourning the loss of one child whose drowning is one of the play’s more haunting mysteries. His youngest son, in a particularly fresh-faced and plain-spoken performance by Matt Ball, is pragmatic, unafraid to stand up for his beliefs. The older son, a burning cauldron of unspoken tensions, grieving over his brother’s death and afraid of the inchoate feelings welling within him, is given life by a remarkable young actor, Luke Kirby, who breathes into his every moment a purity that becomes synonymous with passion. Father and sons form the crux of the play, but they are given excellent support by Peter Rogan as a farm helper who seems to be the most likely candidate to be the informer, and from David Lansbury as the agent who needs to find out who the informer is. Marc Aden Gray completes the cast in a somewhat less defined role.
Praise must go to the play’s designers as well. Charles Corcoran’s set is a model for the  unvarnished  reality that can be created within a limited space and budget. Martha Hally’s costumes look lived in and worked in and add profoundly to the sense of truth this production aims for.
One cannot help but leave the theater feeling renewed respect for the kind of care  and wealth of feeling that is possible in the theater when serious artists work at their best. We have been introduced to yet another Irish playwright with an eloquent grasp of language and an ability to find poetry in the grittiest situations.  And, in Luke Kirby, we have come across an actor with a real future in the theater.

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