It’s harvest time in rural Northern Ireland. A time of hard work, but also an occasion for exuberant celebration as those gathered give thanks for kinship and the year’s bounty. For one family, the harvest of 1981 will bring with it a bitter crop reaped from political seeds sown a decade earlier in the drama “The Ferryman,” at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.
In the sprawling first act, we meet the sprawling family of farmer Quinn Carney (Thomas Edward Daugherty). With a cast numbering in the double digits, the playbill thoughtfully supplies an ORG chart so the audience can keep straight parents, offspring, aunts, uncles and assorted cousins. There are also those who stand in solidarity with the clan and those who threaten its peace and security. A notable family member is sister-in-law Caitlin (Joy Yvonne Jones, in a compelling performance). She and her son Oisin (Giovanny Diaz de Leon) joined the household 10 years ago after Quinn’s brother Seamus mysteriously disappeared.
Or, perhaps the disappearance is no mystery at all, given Quinn was once a committed foot soldier of the Irish Republican Army who convinced Seamus to join the IRA during The Troubles, a period of political unrest and violent conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestant Unionists loyal to the British crown and Catholic Irish nationalists who want nothing to do with the United Kingdom and seek to unite this part of the Emerald Isle with the Republic of Ireland.
As the story begins, word is received that Seamus’ murdered body has been found eerily preserved in a peat bog. Caitlin convinces Quinn to keep the family in the dark about Seamus’ death until after the harvest festivities. The walls, however, literally have ears as young Oisin eavesdrops on the adults’ kitchen conversation. The lad’s feeling of betrayal upon learning of his father’s death in this jarring manner ignites a slow-burning fuse.
Adding fuel to the story’s inevitable climax are finely wrought characters you’ll not soon forget: Among them is staunch republican Aunt Patricia (Grace Delaney), whose blood pressure skyrockets every time she hears Margaret Thatcher’s voice on a radio broadcast. Uncle Patrick (Antonio TJ Johnson) who drains Bushmills whiskey bottles with regularity when he’s not quoting the poets of antiquity: “Virgil has it that there’s only two types of souls forbidden passage to the beyond. The unburied. And liars.” This uttered as Uncle Pat levels his gaze at Father Horrigan (Daren Scott), a Roman Catholic priest who knuckled under to threats by IRA strongman Muldoon (Max Macke, appropriately menacing) to cough up information gleaned from the confessional used to ensure Quinn’s silence on who bears responsible for Seamus’ death. Tom Kettle (Dallas McLaughlin), a simpleminded handman who lives in an outbuilding on the Carney farm, is a quiet role that’s easy to overlook on a stage crowded with actors. It’s McLaughlin’s luminous performance that makes Tom’s character a linchpin as events unfold. Kudos to director Kristianne Kurner.
by Lynne Friedmann