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(l-r) Dara Coleman, Zachary Springer and Ciaran Crawford
in The Lepers of Baile Baiste.
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
"Sin is like leprosy," says Father John Gannon, preaching to his congregation. "When you can't feel it, then you know you're in trouble." In Ronan Noone's The Lepers of Baile Baiste, the characters that inhabit the fictional Irish town of the play's title do their best not to feel the pain of a shared trauma that dates back many years. They refuse to talk about it, instead drowning their sorrows in alcohol and denying the event's impact. However, the arrival of Daithi O'Neil (Dara Coleman), who returns to Baile Baiste after several years in London, threatens to dredge up buried secrets and open the wounds of both the victims and those who covered up the sins of an abusive predator.

The playwright has made the mistake of attempting to fashion his story as a mystery, complete with a climactic and somewhat contrived revelation scene; the problem is that the basic facts, albeit not the specific details, are fairly apparent by the end of Act I. Those who want to avoid "spoilers" are advised to skip the next paragraph, although the play still works if one has advance knowledge of the secret that is so difficult for the characters to discuss openly.

Noone's play deals intelligently with the recent scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church -- specifically, the sexual molestation of young boys by Church officials. Now in their 20s, four abuse survivors in Baile Baiste still feel the lingering effects of sexual confusion caused by the actions of one Brother Angelus, who presided over their classroom when they were children. Daithi is the angry one who wants revenge; Peter "Clown" Quinn (David Ian Lee) is the quiet and withdrawn one, whom many suspect is gay; Aloysius "Yowsa" O'Dowd (Ciaran Crawford) has become a promiscuous ladies' man and wants desperately to escape the town; Michael "Laddeen" Toner (Jeffrey M. Bender) is the local gossip, who covers up his own insecurities by spreading rumors about others.

All of the actors, directed by David Sullivan, are solid, although some handle the play's complexities better than others. Lee is quietly impressive, demonstrating a depth of emotion unequaled by anyone else on stage. Crawford plays the surface aspects of his role a little too much, and his portrayal would be strengthened if he were to show some more vulnerability. Michael Shelle, who plays Father Gannon, has the difficult task of balancing the contradictions that allow the priest to believe in his own moral uprightness even as others question it. The extrent to which he succeeds in this is a testament to his talent.

Set designer Richard Chambers has fashioned a convincing facsimile of an Irish pub and presented it at a skewed angle that adds to the theatricality of the production. Jeff Hinchee's costumes seem well-suited to their wearers, while Dan Meeker's lighting design is unobtrusively effective.

The Lepers of Baile Baiste is a rather talky piece that could certainly use some editing, particularly because so much time is unwisely spent trying to sustain an air of suspense. Also, it is past cliché for Irish plays to be set in a bar where alcohol loosens the tongue and allows men to expose their feelings. But Noone's language is strongly character-driven, and the play's conclusion has a powerful emotional impact.

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