Freedom of the City Craig Wroe (as Solider) in Brian Friel's THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street), directed by Ciaran O'Reilly. For more information, visit www.irishrep.org. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg.
Guest post by Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD
Brian Friel’s play, The Freedom of the City, presented by the Irish Repertory tells the story, in juxtaposition, of the January 30, 1972 “Bloody Sunday” when British Parachute Regiment soldiers killed 13 people in Derry, Northern Ireland and the Widgery Commission, set up to investigate. The Widgery Commission found nobody responsible for the Bloody Sunday killings and neither soldiers nor officers were disciplined (let alone brought to trial). Friel infuses this story – and the subsequent public outcry after the sham investigation – with humanity in the forms of aspiring middle-class Michael (James Russell), middle-aged housewife/mother of 11 Lily (Caroline Seymour) and the homeless young Skinner (Joseph Sikora). These three randomly found themselves in the resplendent Mayor’s Parlor in the Guildhall. They move from vague awe and disrespect of the office into a comfortable familiarity, essentially hiding out after some rioting had already taken place. Eventually, they are enjoying the Mayor’s adult beverages and engaging in minor vandalism (of political origin). The three unlikely friends upon leaving the space are shot to death, even as Lily is extending dinner invitations to the young men of meager means. (That this took place as soldiers moved up the aisles of the Irish Repertory Theatre, scope locked on their targets, was all the more touching, an excellent directorial touch by Ciaran O’Reilly.) In bas relief, the judge (Peter Cormican) issued an interspersed recount that led to the shocking verdict as regards the wrongful conduct of the police, a verdict so shocking that in 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair set up another inquiry which lasted some 12 years. However, on June 10, 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron, took responsibility with the findings of Lord Saville’s Commission, and reversing those of the Widgery Commission. Cameron’s official apology for the deaths included a statement that “what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable.” Finally, on July 4, 2012, the police have begun a murder investigation into the deaths of the victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre. The Irish Repertory’s presentation of Friel’s play reminds us that while justice delayed may be justice denied, there may in the end be some measure of justice in the face of that which is not just. That Friel included the running commentary of a sociologist who is an expert on the culture of poverty, Dr. Dobbs (Christa Scott-Reed) served as a vehicle to make this play about social justice, as well as criminal justice.
For more information, visit www.irishrep.org.
Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc (Criminal Justice Policy), PhD, currently teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named the 2011/2012 SGA Faculty Member of the Year. She did her MSc and PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science, focusing upon emerging criminal law, the courthouse culture of criminal trials and the media’s role in them.