After a terrorist attack, while the big issue is being investigated — How could this have happened? — I always find myself pondering more personal questions: What kind of people would do such a thing? How could their friends and family have been oblivious to the terrorists' plans? Why didn't they do something?
It's these personal questions that interest playwright Christopher Humble in "The Flight of the Earls," a dark drama about a Belfast family caught up in the Northern Ireland conflict during the 1970s.
Despite missed opportunities by both the playwright and the production team, "Flight of the Earls" is an engrossing evening of theater. Because of the subject matter, calling it entertaining seems flippant — but there is certainly pleasure in appreciating the fine acting and high production values. The set — the living area of an old Irish farmhouse — is especially intricately designed by Tom Mangieri.
In the story, it's the eve of a visit by the Northern Irish prime minister and brothers Michael and Ian Earl, secretly in the IRA terror group, are up to their necks in a plot to assassinate him. The third brother, Keith, is already in jail, having been caught with a bomb, yet the Earls' mother and Michael's wife seem blissfully unaware of what's going on right under their noses.
Their blindness becomes distracting as Humble's script, instead of digging deeper, becomes repetitive. We're told multiple times, for example, that the family's problems started with their dead father, also an IRA sympathizer.
There's also a sense that director John DiDonna could have done more to play up the lighter moments, providing a break in tone from the grim violence and the frequent shouting. For unsurprisingly, this is a loud, angry play — though DiDonna's direction does give the rising anger a propulsive quality that keeps the drama moving toward its unsurprising conclusion.
What is a surprise, and a very pleasant one, is how DiDonna's actors use fear to fill in the script's cracks. Stephen Lima, as Michael, becomes increasingly haunted. He's so afraid of losing his wife, Brigitte, he's willing to sacrifice her brother (CK Anderson, very good as a young innocent).
Chris Prueitt, seething intensity as Ian, fears losing Michael to America. Becky Eck, as Brigitte, fears losing her innocence. Protesting "He wouldn't!" when confronted with her husband's IRA involvement, Eck nicely suggests that she's not only shocked by Michael's lies but that she doesn't want to believe her faith could be so misplaced.
Marty Stonerock gives the Earl matriarch a layer of weariness under her anger, weariness at the situation and with her family. She, more than anyone, represents normalcy as she chatters on about a new dress, aching feet or good manners. It's in her little everyday moments, such as trying to set the table for a simple family dinner, that "Flight of the Earls" finds its power.
'The Flight of the Earls'
• What: A Lima/Stonerock Productions and Empty Spaces Theatre Co presentation of the Christopher Humble Play
• Length: 2 hours, including intermission
• When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, and Thursday-Sunday, April 5-8
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• Tickets: $20; $15 students and seniors
• Call: 407-328-9005