- Chief New York Theatre Critic
- Outer Critics Circle
David Ireland’s “Cyprus Avenue” currently running at The Public’s LuEsther Hall sneaks up on the audience like a cat burglar armed with an AK-15 assault rifle. What one assumes will be lost is far less than the devastation left behind by the action in Ireland’s disquieting play. The detritus remaining after Eric Miller’s (Stephen Rea) violation of his wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine), their daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) and their granddaughter Mary-May is almost unbearable and not predictable. This all begins with Eric stepping onto the stage (after a considerable pause) and sitting on a chair in his living room in Cyprus Avenue, East Belfast. Bernie enters and asks, “What are you doing sitting there doing nothing?” Eric stares back dumbfounded. The next scene begins with Eric in the office of his psychotherapist Bridget (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo).
Why Eric is in therapy does not become clear until after the play’s shocking climax. It is clear at the start that Eric has been remanded to attend the weekly sessions as “part of [his] ongoing treatment” in some yet unnamed facility. In this introductory session Eric hurls a racial slur at his African-American therapist and reveals himself to be a deeply disturbed individual outwith any moral compass. Their sessions segue into a series of flashbacks that reveal Eric’s current state of mind and the reason for his being remanded to psychotherapy.
In those flashbacks, Eric defends his anti-Catholic, anti-Fenian, pro-Protestant, pro-Unionist stance in graphic outbursts that need to be seen to fully appreciate David Ireland’s writing and Stephen Rea’s powerful presence on the stage. It is difficult to parse the depth of Eric’s sectarian hatred without issuing a spoiler alert. This hatred no knows no bounds and respects no limits. Playwright David Ireland has pushed the plot driven by this character’s maniacal temperament to the limit of moral turpitude and beyond.
The moral assault comes in waves of increasingly increased salvos from Eric’s failing ego strength and seems to be given new momentum when he determines (beyond the shadow of a doubt) that his new granddaughter Mary-May not only looks like but is Gerry Adams the President of Sinn Fein. Eric does not believe that his wife’s claims that the baby is “the most gorgeous cutest baby in the whole wide world!” He finds that assertion unscientific. Yet he easily believes his granddaughter is the Fenian Gerry Adams, particularly after drawing a black beard on the baby and putting on glasses! Because Gerry Adams cannot live in his house, Eric begins to find ways to resolve the dilemma, even recruiting Slim (in a bizarre quid pro quo deal) to assist him.
Under Vicky Featherstone’s impressive direction, Stephen Rea commandeers the stage as soon as he steps upon it and never surrenders the exquisite control he has over his maniacal character Eric Miller. With equal craft, Andrea Irvine and Amy Molloy portray two strong women determined to survive their husband and father’s racism, sexism, abuse, and psychosocial brokenness. Assuming an appropriate clinical demeanor, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo’s Bridget brings Eric as close to self-discovery as any therapist might succeed in doing. And Chris Corrigan assembles a Slim that simply contradicts all that is reasonable and respectable. The cast of “Cyprus Avenue” stalks the shadows of the human conscience and discovers an inner world not unlike the world we currently seek shelter from.
What could have caused Eric’s apparent paranoid schizophrenia? Eric shares with his therapist Bridget that the past has been “lying awake at night and contemplating the past.” When asked to further define the past, Eric replies: “Resentments. Disappointments. Failed expectations. Ruined dreams. Entanglements. Despair. That which could have been. And that which is.” Eric’s heinous acts bring him peace without remorse. Sectarian hatred, moral turpitude, and xenophobia abound. Which of these is the greatest? Is there any way to find shelter from the wrath of those who claim them as their moral center? David Ireland's "Cyprus Avenue" could not be more relevant and more chilling.
The cast of “Cyprus Avenue” features Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Chris Corrigan, Andrea Irvine, Amy Molloy, and Stephen Rea.
“Cyprus Avenue” features scenic and costume design by Lizzie Clachan, lighting design by Paul Keogan, sound design by David McSeveny, and fight direction by Bret Yount. Production photos by Ros Kavanagh.
“Cyprus Avenue” runs through Sunday July 29, 2018 at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (425 Lafayette Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Single tickets, starting at $80.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.