The Blowin of Baile Gall
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 10, 2005
A "blowin" is, apparently, an outsider, perhaps even a usurper (I guess it comes from the expression "blowing in to town"?). So The Blowin of Baile Gall's title character turns out to be a Nigerian named Laurence who has been hired illegally by contractor/entrepreneur Sam Carson, Jr., to be the fourth worker on a construction site at a house in Baile Gall, a town in Ireland. Sam tells Laurence that he must be called Lionel while he's at work, and furthermore that he needs always to stand out of sight of the road, just in case anybody from Immigration is passing through. And of course Laurence will be paid less for this job than the Irishmen and women who are Sam's other employees.
Laurence needs the job—he is trying to raise enough money to bring his mother over to live with him—and so he swallows his pride and accedes to all of Sam's dehumanizing terms.
Sam's other employees are a colorful lot: Molly Black, the painter, is approaching middle age with a much younger boyfriend, Stephen, in tow. Stephen works on the site as well—he's a recovering alcoholic with a short fuse and a bad temper; he's also not very bright and, as an orphan who was delivered to Baile Gall from some other distant Irish town, he sometimes seems as much a "blowin" as Laurence. Eamon Collins, the plasterer, who is Molly's age (and her former boyfriend), is a sad, mean dreamer and perennial loser who has a particular history with this particular house that they're renovating: it was once his family's, until a bitter rivalry with Sam's family caused them to lose it some 25 years ago. Eamon regards it as his property nonetheless and is wicked jealous that Sam—who emigrated to America and has returned successful and Yankee-fied—has the wherewithal to purchase the place from the English divorcee who currently owns it. Eamon, further, was hoping that the job given to Laurence would go to his worthless cousin, Bulldog, fueling an immediate rivalry with the Nigerian. And he's also illegally on the "dole" even though employed, which means that in addition to the foregoing, he's constantly worried that someone from the government will turn up to arrest him or worse.
If this sounds like a lot going on in a five-character play, well—that's what I thought too. Author Ronan Noone seems overly fond of exposition, for that's almost all that we get in The Blowing of Baile Gall's first act. Rather than allowing his characters to show us who they are, they constantly tell each other who are, which makes for a more passive, less engaging theatrical experience.
Nevertheless, Noone effectively creates a powder keg, placing these five volatile personalities in the close quarters of the old Collins family kitchen. When we leave for intermission, we're certain that an explosion is inevitable in Act Two, and Noone supplies more than one, and not necessarily the ones we've been specifically expecting. His theme is essentially that grudges breed evil: everything bad that happens in this play—including Laurence's exile from his homeland—stems from a desire to avenge some perceived insult to someone's good name or family. (It seemed to me that Noone squandered an opportunity to say something interesting about the modern-day refugee experience by having Laurence be essentially the same kind of man as Eamon--but it's his play and this is the point he seems to want to make about human nature.)
Director David Sullivan's staging is fine, on a richly detailed set by Richard Chambers, with equally appropriate costumes by Jennifer Caprio. The five-member ensemble is excellent. Susan B. McConnell is warm and spirited and fearless as Molly, the one truly admirable character in the piece, while Ciaran Crawford, Colin Hamell, and George C. Heslin offer rich, detailed characterizations as Stephen, Eamon, and Sam, respectively (Hamell perhaps overdoes the blarney a bit, but he's spot-on ridiculing Sam's Americanized lingo). Ato Essandoh is dignified and aloof as the African loner Laurence: you can sense the chip on his shoulder that he's just daring someone to knock off, as well as the wall he's built around himself that he's desperately wishing someone will allow him to tear down.