Drum Belly Review
For our latest instalment of ‘An American in Dublin’, Emma reviews Drum Belly, a powerful play set in New York; it didn’t however, have her longing for home
“This is going to be great for you, Emma,” my friend enthused as we shoved sandwiches in our mouths before seeing Drum Belly at the Abbey. “It’s set in New York! It’ll remind you of home. That’ll be nice.”
Well, no. This play is set in the 1960s, in Brooklyn; it’s centered around the Irish gang and their struggle for relevance in a changing world. Gang leader Mr. Sullivan, played by Declan Conlon, has agreed to a truce with the Italian mafia; his men, however, are having a hard time accepting the peace. When Sullivan’s young nephew Bobby comes over from Ireland to stay with his uncle, Bobby is swept into a new gritty and unpredictable world.
In a powerful play, certain moments stand out: as Sullivan’s right-hand man Johnny Rourke sits transfixed to his television, shoveling popcorn into his mouth as he watches man first step foot on the moon, his three cronies stand just behind his couch and kick a man to death. Young Bobby is torn between the two events — we’re left to assume that the moon landing and the murder are equally transformative moments for him. The brutal nonchalance is, artistically, brilliant; emotionally, the scene is in equal parts mesmerizing and sickening.
The last scene of the play is even more intense, the emotional pinnacle of the story. I’m reluctant to give away the play’s plot, so I will say only this: the last scene is aching, heart-breaking, and absolutely unforgettable. It literally left me shaking. (Please know that I am not a woman to misuse the word “literally”.)
Drum Belly is an edgy, fast-paced thriller. It’s probably not for everyone; it’s graphic and ugly at times, and it will leave you shaken. (About thirty seconds into the play, my friend leaned over and whispered, “Okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly your New York.” Yes. Please do not invite your American friends to Drum Belly expecting them to be reminded of home.) This is a story of struggle: a struggle with faith, with alcoholism, with family and with stereotypes. It’s not a pretty story. But if you feel emotionally stable and are comfortable with gore and guts, you should see it. Drum Belly is brilliantly written (by Richard Dormer), directed (Sean Holmes), and acted, and you won’t be able to get it out of your mind.