The W.B. Yeats poem quoted in the program, "Purgatory," gives a hint of the play's content. Noone's characters "re-live their transgressions, and that not once but many times." The main transgressors here are Paddy (Billy Meleady), who once ran a thriving gigolo business for unloved and unappreciated married women; Rosie (Judith McIntyre), who both loves and hates Paddy; and William (Miguel Cervantes), a younger man whom Paddy talks into becoming a gigolo, with disastrous consequences. Other roles are assumed periodically by Cervantes, who metamorphoses for example into Rosie's father, "a religious, mad chicken farmer" with the palsy.
As the play opens, Paddy and Rosie are living in Amsterdam, whither they have carried the heartache they had hoped to leave in the village of Baile Breag. Paddy is drinking too much, Rosie is paying strangers for sex, and Paddy decides that an explanation of his past life will clear the air. His revelations are half-truths of the type that the slightly penitent might confess in order to receive a priest's absolution. But Rosie has revelations of her own, and she uses their shock value to get more of the truth from Paddy.
All the trouble could be said to start with Rosie's father, a Roman Catholic fanatic so repressed that he has sex with his wife only once and then, in revulsion, prays to God for forgiveness. Rosie's mother, finding this sort of thing inadequate to her needs, absconds and makes "adultery a way of life." Over the years, Rosie looks after her increasingly unstable father -- until he commits an unforgivable crime.
Most of the narration is focused on Paddy's conversion of young William to the gigolo business and the role that the conversion plays in driving the gentle William mad, too. Throughout, Paddy is in denial that anything he has done or failed to do could have caused so many people to die unnecessarily in Baile Breag. He shrugs it all off, and he drinks.
Rosie cuts him no slack but she, too, has contributed to the tragedies. Noone, who came to America from Ireland in 1994 and is now a citizen, shows us the self-deceptive and destructive side of his Irish characters. In a moment that seems to sum up the play's message, the murder of an innocent is turned into an ironic little song and dance. Some might say that creating songs out of tragedy is a strength that helps the Irish survive but Noone sees a dark side -- people who shirk blame and responsibility, people who just raise a pint and call for a song or a tale.
Unfortunately, the elements of the plot tend to distract from the play's compelling theme. How can a playwright keep a shocking story element from assuming the triviality of a soap opera episode? Look at Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In that play, it's not the killing of George and Martha's (imaginary) child that's powerful but, rather, what the husband and wife do to each other in order to stay connected. Perhaps if Noone were less focused on what's wrong with Ireland and how his characters demonstrate that, the play would be stronger. Though the characters are given snappy dialogue that's splendidly delivered by Meleady, McIntyre, and Cervantes, they still come across as cultural symbols.
Carmel O'Reilly, the heart and soul of Súgán Theater (a group "dedicated to the production of contemporary plays that draw from the well of Irish and Celtic culture"), directs the production. Kate Snodgrass, artistic director of Boston University's Boston Playwrights' Theatre and a mentor to Noone, is dramaturg. The simple and effective translucent screens that form the set are designed by Richard Chambers. Costume design is by Frances Nelson McSherry and lighting by Daniel Meeker. Haddon Kime created the sound effects -- traditional Irish songs, sea birds, ocean waves, whispered rosaries -- and also the original music.
Allow plenty of time to get the theater: There is no parking to be had in Boston's South End for love or money.