It looked like it was going to be another quiet night at work for Robert at the small Belfast pub, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. The soft-spoken Polish bartender (played convincingly by Robert Zawadzki) ends up bearing witness to a confrontation that was decades in the making, in which grief and rage are served up in equal amounts and the past and the present combine all too easily.
Quietly, the three-person drama by Owen McCafferty, depicts the meeting between Ian (Declan Conlon) and Jimmy (Patrick O’Kane), two middle-aged men whose lives were changed forever on a summer day in 1974. They were 16 at the time, a fact Ian brings up repeatedly in defense of his actions. He didn’t know better.
This production from the Abbey Theater in Dublin, presented at the Irish Repertory Theater, is a gripping 75-minute meeting, presented in real time that revisits the Troubles of Northern Ireland, a political disagreement between the Protestants and Catholics, of which Ian and Jimmy were on opposite sides. It is that conflict, and the actions taken by the the activists, that have brought Jimmy and Ian together, and, without spoiling the story, it’s safe to say their meeting is not a happy one.
Ian has requested to meet with Jimmy to discuss his what he did that day. Unclear to himself of what he hopes to accomplish with the conversation, he admits having trouble “being able to look myself in the eye when I’m havin’ a shave.” Conlon gives a solid performance, convincingly portraying Ian’s ambiguity and guilt, as well as his determination to live the remainder of his life with some kind of meaning.
He has a formidable scene partner in O’Kane, whose performance as Jimmy is skillfully paced and compellingly moving. He inspires empathy for his rage at what was taken from him and how it impacted the remainder of his life as he demands Ian revisit the fateful day in excruciating detail, while also portraying an otherwise affable Irish man whom one might enjoy sharing a pint with under different circumstances.
Presented in association with the Public Theater, and directed by Jimmy Fay, Quietly presents an unflinching portrait of Jimmy’s white-hot rage and fury, as well as Ian’s guilt. Zawadzki bears witness to this meeting, standing in the background as he watches and listens, almost invisible if not for a few quiet movements.
But it’s not just the past that poses a threat to this meeting; as Ian and Jimmy talk, rowdiness is building outside the pub, and Robert’s dismissal of their youth is not a soothing one. While Quietly is set in another country and spoken with heavy accents, its message is a poignant one for America. When considering the hatred inspired by Donald Trump’s campaign and the violence reported from his rallies, a reminder of the ripple effects of violence is welcome.