The Story: The lepers of baile baiste

Baile Baiste is “come day, go day” until Daithi O’Neill returns and sends the quiet Irish town reeling under the weight of recrimination. As a decade or more of secret guilt and resentment ends, four young men must come to terms with the abuse in their past. Daithi’s violent churchyard thievery puts the blame where Daithi says it should be: at the feet of Father Gannon and the absent but never forgotten Brother Angelus. When Father Gannon refuses to acknowledge the past, the church’s secrets flood through the parish and rip apart the town, the bulwark of faith embodied by Sergeant Michael O’Brien and the town’s sensitive, fragile clown.


LA Times

A native of Ireland, Ronan Noone wrote the award-winning “The Lepers of Baile Baiste” while attending graduate school at Boston University. This is not your typical student play. A remarkable effort, “Lepers” is fully fledged and richly mature in every particular, as is the play’s shattering current production at the Celtic Arts Center.

There are few surprises here. Noone’s drama, which treats the now dismayingly familiar subject of sexual misconduct within the Catholic Church, charts a predictable course. The action is set in the tiny Irish town of Baile Baiste, where some half a dozen young men regularly gather at the local pub. There, in between all the hostile jokes and bristling exchanges, they pour a steady stream of alcohol on the suppurating wounds of the past.

Lonely, bitter bachelors, they share an open secret. When they were 11 years old, they were viciously abused, both sexually and physically, by a sadistic Catholic brother, who has since moved on to poison the lives of other boys. It’s a sad but simple premise that could have been as shallow as yesterday’s headline. However, Noone digs so deeply under the skins of these scarred survivors that we feel every twinge of their undiminished suffering.
Director Pascal Marcotte, who also designed the rough-edged, rustic set, goes for the jugular in his ferociously apt staging, which contains plenty of well-timed gallows’ humor to underscore the escalating tragedy.

The passionate cast ranges from the capable to the brilliant. A particular standout, Michael Earl Reid, is alternately terrifying and hilarious as Seaneen, a drunken old wastrel who regularly menaces the pub’s regulars with a baling hook.

The most remarkable turn, however, comes from Keith Blaney as Clown, a pudgy, cartoonish character whose agonizing progression from the comical to the tragic is heart-rending. A plum performance in this or any theatrical season, it should not be missed.

LA Times, Kathleen Foley

NY Times

Filth is a theme in Ronan Noone’s shrewd, promising drama “The Lepers of Baile Baste.” It’s no accident that the town drunk always wears a grimy, torn raincoat. Or that the bathroom in the pub — the play’s primary setting — hasn’t been cleaned in ages. And something is festering in the souls of four young men who spend most of their time there.

Twenty years ago, all four were abused by Brother Angelus, a local priest who was found out but never punished. Instead he simply left town, and a fifth victim, Daithi O’Neil (Dara Coleman), who has just returned from his new life in England, is determined to find out where he is. There is a sixth young man, Simon, just released from a mental institution, whom the audience never meets.

Daithi (whose name sounds, to an American ear, like Dotty) is a handsome thing who decides to torture Father Gannon (Michele Shelle) by stealing statues from the church and going to confession and demanding that the priest answer questions instead.

Mr. Noone’s play, first produced at Boston University in 2001, when he was an M.F.A. candidate there, paints a group portrait of desperation. The young men are hungry for news, gossip, anything to relieve the boredom of their tiny town.

Kellogg (Zachary Springer), the bartender, appears to be the only one who has a job. Yowsa (Ciaran Crawford) is the only one who isn’t desperate for a woman; he has, they say, slept with every girl in town. In fact, Clown (David Ian Lee), who can best be described as the runt, may still be a virgin. Laddeen (Jeffrey M. Bender) bought a couple of condoms in 1996 and still had them when they reached their expiration date in 1998. Even Daithi, who left the country after his girlfriend broke up with him, may have sexual problems.

Daithi means to point a finger and does. “If the Pope got married, Fadder, it wouldn’t change my religion,” he says in the confessional. “It is your religion that is suspect.” Daithi believes in getting things out in the open, something his friends don’t necessarily condone.

“Leave well enough alone,” says Yowsa. “We don’t need that therapy nonsense.” God forbid they should become like those “Yanks in groups,” who spend their time “twitching and blinking and stuttering and looking for ailments where there is none.”

Fortunately, Mr. Noone disagrees and makes his points skillfully, with a confident, judicious use of symbolism worthy of Tennessee Williams. This includes creating a good reason for a large statue of an angel to be in a bar.

In Act II, when most of his characters are inebriated and have just attended a funeral, he shoots for a kind of late-night “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” madness. It doesn’t work, but it’s a grand effort, and in the final moments, when many playwrights falter, Mr. Noone holds tight to character and credibility.

The Lepers of Baile Baste,” directed by David Sullivan, plays Thursdays through Sundays at the Phil Bosakowski Theater, 354 West 45th Street, through Oct. 3.


Curtain Up

You need only open your daily newspaper to read about yet another case illustrating the long-ranging effects on a victim of abuse by pedophile priests. The Lepers of Baile Baiste which is currently being given a brief Off-Broadway production, dramatizes the shadow cast by one such priest on the lives of the eleven-year-old boys who were unlucky enough to be in his classroom during his year-long reign of terror. It could be torn right out of the headlines — especially the headlines in Boston, the American capital of clerical abuse scandal and the city Irish born playwright Ronan Noone now calls home. But Boston is hardly the only American city where the Catholic Church’s dirty linens have been publicly and painfully aired and the clerical hypocrisy involving the abuse problem is not an American phenomenon.

By setting Lepers in a typically dour Irish town, Noone not only tears away the scabs still festering beneath abuse inflicted wounds of a group of young men, but makes the issue of improperly handled clerical misconduct a symbol for a country with a long history of relying on hypocritical sermonizing, platitudes and whiskey to deal with economic hardship and emotional problems.

Like Martin McDonagh, Noone is something of a young wunderkind who started his playwriting career ambitiously and with a bang — The Lepers of Baile Baiste is the initial play of a trilogy and its finely detailed characterizations and gritty dialogue brought him the National Student Playwriting Award and immediate acclaim and productions. As with Shakespeare, the Irish rhythms and vocabulary of playwrights like Noone and McDonagh call for expert interpreters. Happily, the cast in the current production is more than up to the task. They are also fine actors who clearly define each character’s personality within the framework of the dreary and often cruel bar room culture where years of tensions finally explode.

The play has elements of O’Neill’s Ice Man Cometh, with the regulars of Kellog’s (Zachary Springer) bar wandering in and out one by one, the ties that bind them and the traits that distinguish them from one another revealed bit by bit. The four men whose often cruel camaraderie reveals the childhood trauma which affects all of them, include a classic O’Neill pipe dreamer, the handsome “Yowsa” O’Dowd (Ciaran Crawford) who talks the talk about getting his green card and going off to “Amerikay” for a good job and more and better women. There’s also the gossip mongering “Laddeen” Toner (Jeffrey M. Bender), whose constant nervous sneer is a giveaway for his insecurities. To see what’s going to become of the saddest of the lot, “Clown” Quinn (David Ian Lee), one need only look at the long-time, half-crazed and occasionally violent drunk, Seaneen (Charles Stransky). To take the casual comings and goings into the second and more powerful second act’s wrenching confrontations, there’s Daithi O’Neil (Dara Coleman) who’s returned to town after two years in England determined to make Father Gannon (Michael Shelle), the town priest, talk about what happened to Brother Angelus, the sadistic pedophile and to admit his own guilt in the mishandling of this situation.

To add to the dramatic tension, Daithi’s return coincides with that of an unseen fifth classmate, Simon, the son of the local policeman (Kevin Hagan) and “Clown” Quinn’s best friend (a friendship suspected of homosexual overtones– something else not spoken about or tolerated in this narrow-minded atmosphere) has been sent away to dry out after attacking his father.

The play’s title derives from the name of the town in which the story unfolds and a sermon delivered early on by Father Gannon who uses the story of the priest who ministered to the inmates of a leper colony to link sin with a dread and contagious disease. The town’s name is fictitious, taken from the Gaelic for Raintown. The production would have been enhanced with some sound effects of pounding rain to underscore the symbolism of a “raintown” where people are drenched in despair but can’t wash away their painful secrets and memories. Still, the stoic young Kellog’s bar is depressingly uncozy enough to evoke an aura of unending cloudbursts and sadness.

Having the bar also accommodate the church scenes is ironically apt. After all, with no real help in dealing with emotional issues from the platitude spouting Father Gannon, the drinking and tough talk in Kellog’s bar are a natural alternative.

While billed as a dark comedy, there’s more cause for tears than laughter here. This is not escape entertainment, but it is a chance to become acquainted with a new, young playwright with a keenly observant mind and to watch some wonderful performances at a bargain priced ticket.

Curtain Up, Elyse Sommer


In a sermon at the beginning of this powerful piece, Father Gannon explains that sinners are like lepers: unfit for society with a disease that is highly contagious and fatal. At first glance it is presumed that he means the motley, disturbed group that inhabits the local pub, but as the action develops it is equally apparent that the sin lies elsewhere, and these misfits are only the result of that original sin. They drink, abuse one another roundly, and laugh at their own bitter antics. It is a portrait of a bar with a bit of the angst of The Iceman Cometh and some of the whimsy of The time of Your Life. But these victims of moral leprosy have a personal bond they can’t forget. …
BackStage, McCulloh, T.H

Book: Other People’s Diasporas

“The book is enriched by a wide-ranging sense of the expressive genres in which such difficult questions are aired—not just fiction (the work of Joseph O’Connor and Roddy Doyle) and drama (selected works of Ronan Noone and Daniel O’Kelly), but also films by Jim Sheridan, Neil Jordan, and Eugene Brady whose provenance is as much American by way of Hollywood as it is Irish per se.”—New Hibernia Review

“A compelling argument about the role of race in contemporary Irish culture.”—Lauren Onkey, author of Blackness and Transatlantic Irish Identity