TheaterMania Logo

The Blowin of Baile Gall logo
Ato Essendoh and Colin Hamell in The Blowin of Baile Gall
Photo © Carol Rosegg
Brit-pop icon Morrissey infamously skewered English provincialism when he draped himself in the Union Jack flag while standing in front of a picture of two skinheads and sang his sarcastic ode "The National Front Disco." There's nothing in Ronan Noone's The Blowin of Baile Gall, about a Nigerian refugee trying to survive in a provincial Irish town, to compete with that bit of theatrics. Set on a construction site in a bucolic village, the lives, the habits, and even the prejudices of the main characters are presented as quaint, which takes the punch out of the play's timely messages about right-wing nationalism.

Eamon (Colin Hamell), Stephen (Ciaran Crawford), and Molly (Susan McConnell) are local construction workers; their boss, Samuel (George C. Heslin), has recently returned from America, where he'd been living for 20 years. As the play begins, Samuel hires an African refugee -- in Irish slang, a "blowin" -- named Laurence (Ato Essendoh) for cheap labor. This enrages Eamon because his hooligan cousin could have used the job. Despite Eamon's speechifying about foreign labor's effect on the locals, he's been defrauding the government, collecting dole while earning livable wages on the job.

Caught in the middle is Stephen, a recovering alcoholic turned born-again Christian. He has been an orphan since infancy, and Eamon exploits his fragile sense of belonging by pressuring him to gang up on "the blowin." Molly, who used to live with Stephen before his religious awakening, stands up for Laurence. In fact, she threatens to expose Eamon to the authorities if he continues his bullying -- all of which makes Stephen jealous, leading to a rather predictable confrontation.

Laurence -- who is called "Lionel" when immigration officials are around -- seems more of a device to incite the other characters' prejudices than a fully fleshed-out character, though he does have a strong speech in which he mocks televised images of Africa: "I'm starving, little babies die around me every day, we fight for food like crows around the back of a Red Cross truck. I can run faster than anybody over here. I was in the Olympics. My girlfriend let her breasts out all day in the sun, and she didn't cover them. And we all live in a big jungle... I hunt tigers and pray to strange gods -- and ships come, and that's how I got here."

Sound designer Julie Pittman plays with the audience's preconceptions by playing exotic music by Haddon Kime during Laurence's entrances and exits. But the closest that Laurence comes to actual character development comes in a story he tells about his father being killed for unnamed political reasons and the revenge he took on the murderer. The violence at play's end occurs in such a way that Noone avoids assigning blame; everyone, from the reactionary thug to the exploited refugee, is equally guilty in a tragic turn of events fueled by booze and good intentions gone wrong.

Essandoh is clearly talented and does what he can with his slight role; it will be exciting to see him in a more substantial assignment. Hamell and Crawford make a great pair as the hard-edged bigot and his vulnerable foil and prey. McConnell is winning as the play's most likeable character, and Heslin is fine as the flustered boss. Dan Meeker's mood lighting and Jen Caprio's authentic costumes serve the play well, as does Richard Chamber's properly decrepit set.

Noone, who moved to the U.S. from Ireland 10 years ago, writes sharp, energetic dialogue. He also demonstrates the musicality of the dialect, offers lots of local color, and shows that he knows a thing or two about the immigrant experience. The Blowin could have been an excellent play if only the author had given more attention to the title character.

Tagged in this Story