There must be a way to deal with the symbolic issues presented in David Ireland’s challenging play “Cyprus Avenue” without subjecting the audience to the horrific doings at the climax. The work, a mix of dark comedy and tragedy, is forcefully staged by Vicky Featherstone and sparkles with a superb performance by Stephen Rea. Some telling points are made, but audience members are likely to cringe at what is ultimately put before them, making the play, strong and creative as it is, at that point very tough to watch. The presentation by the Public Theater is an Abbey Theatre and Royal Court Theatre co-production.
We first encounter the remarkable Rea as Eric, who is meeting with therapist, Bridget, played calmly by Ronke Adékoluejo, who doesn’t even blow her cool when he uses the N word to ask why she is the one who is questioning him. We do not know at the point what Eric has done, but we do see evidence of how deeply conflicted he is.
Eric, you see, is from Belfast and considers himself British, not Irish, and he has it in for the Irish resisters like Gerry Adams and those Eric denounces as Fenians. As the play proceeds we see how bonkers he has become as a result of his intense screwed up feelings. The play’s method is to use what he tells Bridget as a jumping off point for flashbacks into his life and what he has done to get him locked up, with Bridget probing to find explanations for what has motivated his acts.
We see how crazy and delusional Eric has become when he is convinced that his recently-born granddaughter is Gerry Adams. Eric becomes abusive toward his increasingly bewildered wife (Andrea Irvine) and daughter (Amy Molloy), and we sense the growing menace of his insanity.
One day, sitting on a park bench, he meets Slim (Chris Corrigan), a blowhard who is a terrorist but isn’t very competent, even though he has a gun with which to threaten Eric. The scene between them is quite funny, given Slim’s over-the-top comments and demeanor. Matters grow more serious when Eric wants him to kill his grandchild because he thinks she is Gerry Adams.
The play appears attempting to pinpoint the differences between those who favor an independent Ireland and those bound to British control and how conflicted feelings in individuals about where they belong can lead to to personal turmoil, of which Eric is a prime, tragic example.
The author is unflinching in the writing, and the director keeps faith with the outlook and presents the tale to the hilt. The dark drama—one might also label it a black comedy-- has a major reward with the gripping, complex performance by Rea and with the no-holds-barred staging. But be prepared. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed June 26, 2018.