Basking in its Irish Catholic roots, Fishamble brings playwright Sebastian Barry’s compellingly lyrical play, On Blueberry Hill to Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Festival presented at the 59E59 Theaters. Beautifully written in dueling monologue form, Barry (The Pride of Parnell Street), one of Ireland’s finest playwrights, climbs up the winding path of love and forgiveness, and plunges it forward into the murky waters of Ireland’s coast to find out what it all means to two fatherless men. Played strongly and sincerely by David Ganly (Donmar London’s Aristocrats) as the young PJ and Niall Buggy (MTC/Crucible’s Translations) as the older Christy, the two fluctuate between pain and happiness, confessing their stories of love, desire, and companionship as poetically eternal. Half the pleasure is their dynamic and engaging delivery, while the other lies strongly in the dense sweet storytelling of paternal love smashing head first into the passionate love of young innocence, that the Irish Catholic faith can not tolerate.
The cell (and costumes), designed by Sabine Dargent (Abbey Theatre’s Sive), with precise lighting by Mark Galione (Fishamble’s Spinning), and sound design by Denis Clohessy (Fishamble’s Silent) sit solidly in the center of the stage, leaving no room for escape for the two souls sentenced. They inhabit the bunk bed like caged but patient animals, vibrating with the honest intent to fall, like a wounded little bird through the cold biting wind and air to the sharp rocks below. The two pull us in, magnificently with their sweet sing-song Irish brogue that tremble and flit, keeping us firmly searching their engaging eyes for clues where the two pathways are leading and how they will eventually cross. A young man’s love for another, another one’s love for his soon to be wife and son, and the love for a son’s mother, all exist exquisitely and are shared quietly between the two. And then it clicks, in an instant with a subtle but heart-breaking thrust, stabbing forth a tale that binds these two in a lifetime of hate, rage, repentance, and forgiveness. Even when the tidal waves of coincidence crash inauthentically with a force of God-less power, the bonding is real and the pain is deep. All this back and forth works its magic, thanks to the extremely grounded work of its two compelling actors and On Blueberry Hill‘s talented director, Jim Culleton, Fishamble’s award-winning artistic director. We stay glued to the wind-swept pathway to the cliff, and feel the harsh winds of a young man’s passion and self-hatred claw painfully at our skin. We experience the anger, the outrage, the confusion, and the loving care of forgiveness as it washes over. “Why is that all so fuckin’ marvelous?”, but it truly is, because On Blueberry Hill, the yearning and the pain of confusion and love is sublime.