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We never lose the sense of viewing these characters and their fates from a distance and in limited glimpses — and always through the prism of the historic events that we know will overtake them.Despite uniformly well-judged performances and Martin’s sensitive direction, the characters never quite take on the vivid actuality that would give the play the emotional wallop its subject warrants.Moore says to Millen, “I can see death as sure as I can touch your hand.Your hand’s cold, but death will warm it.” Pyper muses on his calling and his connection to Craig, who saved his life in battle, “I turn people into stone. …I thought I’d left the gods behind, but they’ve brought me back.The Ulster boys depicted here are all Protestants — Mc Guinness suggests that on an emotional level they were really enlisting in a local war, and died for a cause in which they had little stake. The majority of the first act takes place on a single day, the enlistees’ first, in the barracks.In act two, we meet them again on their first leave away from the front, as they individually come to terms with the trauma of battle.
9m Kenneth Pyper, an Ulster veteran of the First World War, reminisces about the War and compares it to contemporary violence in Ulster: ‘Why we let ourselves be led to extermination?
They’re also haunted by visions of what might come and trying to reconcile their illusions about making a stand for Ulster and for Protestantism with the chilling knowledge that they are in the midst of a conflict that takes no notice of their ideals.
What’s more, Mc Guinness imbues them with visionary moments and bouts of existential despair.
He draws the admiration of David Craig, played with grave earnestness by Jason Butler Harner; they bond — and exchange a kiss — when Craig shows Pyper the stone idols he’s long admired on his favorite childhood haunt, Boa Island.
Already paired off are the childhood pals John Millen (Scott Wolf) and William Moore (Dashiell Eaves).