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The Pride of Parnell Street

Sebastian Barry's bleak yet beautiful drama about domestic violence is well served by Aidan Kelly and Mary Murray.

By New York City
Aidan Kelly and Mary Murray
in The Pride of Parnell
(© Patrick Redmond)
Aidan Kelly and Mary Murray
in The Pride of Parnell
(© Patrick Redmond)
What sense can be made from senseless violence? In The Pride of Parnell Street, now at 59E59 Theaters, playwright Sebastian Barry tells how a single brutal act forever disrupts the Dublin marriage of Joe (Aidan Kelly), a small-time criminal who gets passed up by the economic miracle of Ireland's Celtic Tiger, and his long-suffering wife Janet (Mary Murray) during the turbulent early 1990s, before peace and prosperity temporarily lifted Ireland out of its decades of troubles and toil.

The play -- presented by Dublin's Fishamble: The New Play Company and helmed by its artistic director, Jim Culleton -- began life as a short monologue for an Amnesty International campaign to stop violence against women. Perhaps because of this, sections of it read like a simple problem play, charting somewhat neatly the domestic violence that explodes in the wake of shattered dreams. But Barry doesn't rest there. The Pride of Parnell Street is not a play that answers every question in its path. Even as truths unravel, mysteries of human nature remain. Indeed, no one familiar with Barry's other plays of memory and regret (such as The Steward of Christendom and Our Lady of Sligo) will be surprised that his journey down Parnell Street and beyond is a heart-wrenching one.

Barry's monologue-heavy works would be unremittingly bleak to experience without powerful central performances that bring out the humanity of its unfortunate souls, and Kelly and Murray serve their roles extremely well. Kelly commands our respect and affection for a character who can be fairly described as a lying lout. And Murray infuses Janet with electrifying life. Her accent is quite thick, so a few laugh lines might get lost if you're not well-versed in Dublinese. But it's amazing how much music and poetry she can bring to a monologue about a bloody nose.

Then again, these characters have a penchant for finding beauty in the unlikeliest of places. IRA ballads are taught as lullabies. The meadows and brooks of their pastoral reveries are parked cars and the polluted river rushing by the local power station. Water, whether it's that inexplicably hot river or the rusty puddles that form on the ground in more than one death scene, is a purifying element.

The combined contributions of set designer Sabine Dargent and lighting designer Mark Galione bring that emphasis into beautiful, often subtle focus. Their design seems simple enough at the outset -- a traveling trunk, a graceful grave marker, raindrops blowing on a window -- but God and a few angels of mercy are in the details.


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