A Crisis of Conscience 

Stirring A Night in November grapples with human bigotry through the eyes of one Northern Irish man

Stirring A Night in November grapples with human bigotry through the eyes of one Northern Irish man

The latest of Actors Bridge Ensemble’s fall offerings is the Nashville premiere of A Night in November, an acclaimed script by Marie Jones, a working-class Belfast Protestant who explores her community’s misunderstandings about, and alienation from, its Catholic neighbors. In a world awash with ethnic and religious differences, Jones has tapped into some broader issues by doing what works best: offering a detailed look at bigotry through a more specific lens.

Her play stars only one actor, and it focuses on one main character, Kenneth McCallister, a lower-middle-class Protestant civil servant who undergoes a huge personal transformation while attending the 1994 World Cup qualifying soccer match between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Without apparent warning, our hero finds himself chafing at the thuggish loyalism of his fellow football-crazy Prots. His realization of the true depths of their bigotry, not to mention his own, catapults him into a journey to root out this tradition of hatred.

Faced with the challenge of this tour de force performance is ABE artistic director Bill Feehely, who will undertake the two-act drama without sets or props, and with minimal lighting. The director is Stephen Innocenzi, a New York theater artist who recently choreographed the Marcus Hummon musical Warrior for Actors Bridge. “I’ve always thought it was a fantastic piece,” says Innocenzi, who saw the New York production in 1998 starring Dan Gordon, who created the original performance in Ireland. “The play is at a high level of writing. It’s maybe the best-written piece I’ve seen in a decade. And it’s an unbelievable challenge that any actor would want to take on.”

For Feehely, this means not only playing the McCallister role but also slipping quickly in and out of the play’s ancillary characters, whose presence serves to drive the action forward. “It’s many characters played by one actor,” Innocenzi continues. “Bill is the voice of all the people in the story, in which one man has an epiphany and learns to see the world in a new way.”

Feehely, with Irish Catholic roots of his own, is certainly the logical local performer to tackle this piece, bringing his personal sensibilities to the project as well as his considerable talents as a professional actor. “It’s a great exercise for me,” says Feehely, who in the course of his preparation worked with Nashville’s Tony Kerr, a Londonderry native who assisted with the play’s nuanced Irish dialects. “It’s a play about one man’s awakening, and his questioning of himself and the people around him.”

A Night in November is also well in line with the Actors Bridge mission, which has always been to offer Nashville an important look at socially aware material. “The piece is so relevant to the world today,” Innocenzi concludes. “It’s amazing how every few years a play like this comes along that seems to address the bigger issues. This one has multilevel effects. And theatrically, it’s primordial: It’s the actor, as storyteller, meeting the actor’s craft.”

A Night in November runs Nov. 19-23 at Darkhorse Theater. Tickets are $15-$17, available by calling 341-0300 or by e-mailing actorsbridgetix@comcast.net.

—Martin Brady


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