The Cell theatre on West 23rd is truly an invention. What the production teams do with this sliver of a building is always a surprise, moving chairs to suit the staging, having actors exit on what was part of the original staircase, and creating top notch video projections to enlarge the vision. With Founding Artistic Director Nancy Manocherian and Director Kira Simring, everything is well thought out, and usually accompanies work that is something of a political investigation.
When Act One of McGowan Trilogy began, I realized I had seen it before. A few years back it was produced along with a play by Larry Kirwan. I remember believing that production better than the present Act One of this show. Perhaps the shock value of the situation was lost for me having seen it before. We find ourselves in a private IRA drinking club, when an obnoxious interloper demands to be let in through the locked gate. Madman killer Victor McGowan, a young genius of an IRA hit man, seemed more authentic in the original show. Paul Nugent as the psychopathic thug, though highly competent, seemed to be directed to be hopped up on cocaine, more fitting for a Tarantino movie than as a member of the revolution. He was such a campy hothead, that I wondered why he was permitted to have so much power in the group. Surely, someone would have put the reins on him before the moment that's presented. And Pendar, the elder statesmen, loses his superiority in the situation much too quickly. He's referred to as being over the hill, but as played by Philip Callen, looked young enough to give back as good as he got. Matt Golden as the traitor was so quietly true that the other acting styles seemed at odds with his.
Still, the truth that violence leads to more violence is well illustrated. This club with its paranoia could be ISIS or Boko Haram. No matter how committed to the cause, players eventually lose trust in it and each other.
The playwright Seamus Scanlon does his best to temper the violence with dark humor that sometimes hits home, like the Titanic joke, but some re-thinking might help with others not as funny. In Act Two, our same thug now has to off an ex-sweetie. At first it's unclear whether he's liberating her in the forest but we soon discover that he considers her a traitor. McGowan is so less peppered in this scene that I imagined he had been getting therapy in the intermittent months. I didn't fully buy their history of missed loved, but Anna Nugent's fear of not being discovered in The Long Wet Grass is one of the most poetic parts of the play.
Act three deals with McGowan's face off with his mom nicely played by Cindy Boyle. The video projections and sound design are terrific.
This being the month of peace vigils across the globe, like so much of The Cell's excellent work, The McGowan Trilogy has timeliness on its side as well as a call for redemption.
The play runs through to October 5th.