Colin Lane, Dan McCabe, and Ritchie Coster in Trust(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Colin Lane, Dan McCabe, and Ritchie Coster in Trust
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Although the Irish troubles have been subject matter for 80 disturbing years and probably longer, new ways of looking at the many-sided situation emerge with the inevitability of tomorrow's grim headlines. Gary Mitchell, born in Rathcoole, North Belfast and schooled there (formally and outside the classroom, it appears), has come up with something generally overlooked by worried dramatists. For his topic, he's taken the Loyalist paramilitary, which doesn't get the publicity -- at least stateside -- that, say, the IRA attracts. Assessing the organization from what you have to assume is first-hand knowledge, Mitchell's concluded that the present and future are not promising. To make his case, he invokes specific chapter and verse.

Mitchell, who introduced Trust at London's Royal Court in 1999, couches his views in an unwieldy but commanding play that understands political activism can't be separated from family affairs. When he quits his tangle of characters -- in an abrupt but blood-chilling finale -- he's proved convincingly that dysfunction within the home spreads to outside endeavors, just as dysfunctional outside endeavors infect the rarely sacrosanct household. The interaction between forces, he insists, is vicious, defeating, and likely unavoidable.

Although unemployed Geordie (Ritchie Coster) seems to have nothing to do but watch the races on television with chum Artty (Colin Lane), he's actually one of the pivotal men in a local clandestine organization that opposes the country's unification with more than the peaceful-protest approach. His position is revealed when ex-prisoner Trevor (Declan Mooney) comes calling, hat figuratively in hand, to beg for work and is approved after an alarming vetting. (He proves not to be wired.) A man who keeps his own council, Geordie does get passionate about his outspoken wife Margaret (Fiona Gallagher); he's also a loving father to 15-year-old son and headache sufferer Jake (Dan McCabe). What Geordie isn't inclined to do, despite Margaret's urgings, is fight Jake's battles at school with the bullying Turkington brothers.

At the same time as Geordie and Margaret are hashing out the domestic dilemma, Geordie has conditionally agreed to a deal instigated by good-time girl Julie (Meredith Zinner) that involves boyfriend Vincent (Kevin Isola), an English soldier with access to army guns he's willing to sell. The money means fleeing the besieged vicinity for him and Julie, who are another pair unable to keep their hands off each other until plans go awry. And they do go awry for everyone concerned, since it appears Murphy's Law is not only applicable in North Belfast but could have been formulated there. Not only does Vincent's gun supply fall into the wrong hands but Geordie and Margaret reach an impasse when she leans on the fumbling Trevor to take care of the Turkington business. In his haste, Trevor hands timid Jake a knife, and soon the local police have a case that could send Jake to prison unless Geordie recovers the missing artillery and gets a pass for Jake on his felony.

Deploying this group of conflicted people who are increasingly at cross-purposes -- in spite of their affection for each other -- Mitchell eventually illustrates his title: He makes the point that family, friends and business associates too often rely on mutual trust when it's uncertain anyone anywhere has the ability to honor explicit or implicit agreements. In making his point about trust and its apparent absence in Belfast (and by extrapolation everywhere else) playwright Mitchell has a complicated story to hurl. He's got the Geordie-Margaret-Jake situation and the Julie-Vincent plot to establish and the diffident Trevor lurking about. But maybe there's less that must be explained than Mitchell thinks. He could trim some of the action radically -- he spends excessive stage time making sure the audience understands that Jake is a nervous kid and becoming more so as those Turkingtons assail him. Whole segments of a sequence in which Geordie and Artty introduce Jake to a boys' night out could be pruned. Likewise, Mitchell might've employed shorthand when Julie and Vincent grope each other while refining their scheme. The scene where they're trying to outrun officials could be excised almost completely.

That interlude isn't helped in the current production, either. Although director Erica Schmidt does a capable job of guiding a solid gaggle of actors through tricky paces, she has a number of practical hurdles to jump. Because there's so much occurring in Trust and evidently a low budget with which to facilitate the demands, Schmidt allows some of the proceedings to spill over into the audience. When a director resorts to this strategy, it almost always leads to awkward results. That's the problem when Julie and Vincent -- meeting with Geordie and Artty or on their own -- prowl the corridor through which the audience only recently entered. Realism is tossed to the wind.

Fiona Gallagher, Meredith Zinner, and Colin Lane in Trust(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Fiona Gallagher, Meredith Zinner, and Colin Lane in Trust
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Furthermore, Antje Ellermann has designed a viable living room for Geordie's brood (and he is a brooding presence), but it also has to serve as Julie's flat. When the characters venture farther abroad, a downstage black curtain is pulled. The gallant effort to contain this play on this small stage is made even more gallant by a cast doubling as stagehands. Often, when scenes end, the participants continue doing what they've been doing -- making out furiously, for instance -- while the others bring on props and rearrange furniture for the next segment. Schmidt's choice, clearly born of stark necessity, eventually is style. The actors' blank expressions somehow become a form of withholding any judgment on the anguish portrayed.

Though Ritchie Coster's expressions are never at all blank during the play proper, he often has a way of not reacting to what's going on around him, and it lends Geordie the kind of cunning strength men in his supposed position possess. He also demonstrates the deep caring that Mitchell has cleverly written into the Geordie-Margaret-Jake relationship. (Their enduring regard for one another in the face of drastic growing differences may be Mitchell's subtlest achievement in the work.) Fiona Gallagher's Margaret -- how adept she is ironing shirts -- is much more agitated and every bit as compelling as she fights for her husband and her son and then has to decide whether to fight for her husband or her son.

Dan McCabe as Jake has drawn such a bead on frightened adolescence that he only has to enter carrying a teapot (lots of tea drunk here) to convey heaps about the boy he's playing. Watch his leg bobbing up and down when he thinks he could be jailed is observing an actor totally in tune with a character's being. Meredith Zinner -- at one point looking slutty in a red leather almost-dress designer Michelle R. Phillips dreamed up or found -- and Kevin Isola work up appropriate desire and desperation as Julie and Vincent. Declan Mooney's Trevor is another pitch-perfect study of obsequiousness compounded by worry. Although typically standing still from fear, he constantly gives the impression his insides are erupting.

During the indoor scenes, sound designer Bart Fasbender keeps source noises going. (The lighting designer is Shelly Sabel, who lets dim auditorium illumination fend for itself during the beyond stage doings.) Frequently, the dull murmurings emanate from Geordie's television, suggesting subliminally that life goes on. It's little solace for people who've put trust where it hasn't been earned and/or hope for it from where it can't be offered. Gary Mitchell may be ungainly about expressing the sentiment, but he expresses it nevertheless. That counts for plenty.