Paul Nugent at The (Irish) Cell

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with two one act plays at The Cell theater.

Larry Kirwan’s “Blood” is based on the actual disappearance of James Connolly for three days in January of 1916, some months before the Easter Rising. Connolly’s three day trip “through hell” (from the program notes) should ring some church bells for the literary minded theatergoer. Like Dante, Connolly makes his trip through the Inferno of revolutionary Irish politics before ascending on Easter to participate in the (re)birth of the Irish nation.

In this conjectural scenario Sean MacDermott and Patrick Pearse have kidnapped Connolly in hopes of enlisting them in their plan to drive out the British and establish an Irish republic. The language used by Pearse is charged with Christian metaphor, whereas Connolly, an organic intellectual and autodidact Marxist, challenges his captors with shots of dialectical materialism. The energy of the scene dances around these shifting rationales for revolution like Tesla’s lightning, palpable yet obscure, until the three men decide that action is its own justification.

For Irish history fans (or Irish folks living in New York) this production of “Blood” is a must-see. The spirited writing is converted to living flesh by Ciaran Byrne, Jed Peterson, and Paul Nugent, who play Connolly, MacDermott, and Pearse respectively. Mr. Byrne et al. are not only gifted actors, they also all bear a striking resemblance to their historical originals. In a particularly nice touch, Mr. Byrne speaks in a Scottish brogue. At first I thought this was a mistake on the part of the dialogue coach until I did some homework and found out that Connolly was born in an Irish slum of Edinburgh and spoke with a Scottish accent for the rest of his life. A tip of my hat to the folks who take historical accuracy seriously.

The second play of the evening is “Dancing at Lunacy,” which is set  in a private “drinking club” in Belfast circa 1984. Gangsters and revolutionaries mingle over bottles of Harp and a thick odor of paranoia until some toughs from the IRA show up to crack skulls. Paul Nugent demonstrates serious acting chops morphing from Patrick Pearse into McGowan, the gelled and blinged-out thug enforcer. McGowan references Shakespeare’s Scottish Play, eschews alcohol for a cup of typical Irish tea, and does the pogo to the Sex Pistols. This is truly a Renaissance Thug. In the end, like in all good tragedies, everybody dies — though more in the vein of Cormac McCarthy than the Bard of Avon. Back to back, the two plays dramatize the heroic and banal sides of revolutionary Irish identity — perfect for a St. Patty’s Day nightcap.

“Blood” and “Dancing at Lunacy”
$12 @ The Cell
338 W. 23rd St.
Through March 30th