Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. And those who can do both do so with enthusiasm, as professor of theater Peter Wright is proving with the well-acted Come You Back, which he wrote and directed. It's at Roger Williams University Theatre through December 3.
Set in Derry, Ireland, it shows how the Troubles affected one family in the days leading up to and after Bloody Sunday in the winter of 1972. That was when 13 unarmed men and teenaged boys were shot to death, and as many more marchers and bystanders were wounded, when British soldiers fired into a protest demonstration.
The fictional Fahlin family is a microcosm of the political situation at the time. Father Paddo (Bruce Thompson) has just been released after being held for years — not for violence, but for being able to identify some IRA terrorists. (Why, oh why is he the only character without an Irish accent, which the others nicely maintain? He sounds like a visiting American uncle rather than the auld patriarch.) He gave up no names after being beaten so badly that he hobbles slowly with a cane. The community wants to carry him through town on their shoulders after his release, but he'll have none of that, stricken with survivor's guilt, knowing friends were killed by the British.
Eldest son Emmett (Sean Raftery) is also a pacifist, loudly so, giving speeches on the futility of violence at every opportunity, and making such observations as, "In our quest for retribution, let us not leave our souls in the dust of the road." Emmett's girlfriend is Maeve (Holly Bourdon), who doesn't want violence but does want the British out, observing that "one less group to hate would help."
In contrast to them is brother Mick (David Galante), a hothead who insists that "the Brits will stay forever unless we keep forcing the issue." Sister Loreen (Rebecca Murphy) is so not involve politically, at least at first, that her boyfriend is a British soldier ("It just happened"). The soldier, John Phelps (Brian Rossacci), feels justified in being there, knowing he is helping to keep the Catholic and Protestant factions from murdering each other. Loreen is more anxious than he is about their furtive meetings, knowing that even strolling together could mark him for execution. A one-person peace delegation, Loreen's mother Margaret (Vicky Pagé) welcomes the soldier into their home and approves of her daughter's romance.
So just about every point of view is represented. The narrator providing an overview is the youngest son of the family, Eamon (Jerome Pikor). His attitude is conciliatory but he's no fool, noting that "spin can make extraordinary lies seem plausible."
Not much happens in this play besides our getting to know these people — before the offstage dramatics of Bloody Sunday itself, that is. That isn't too much a liability, since they are interesting and in fraught circumstances, after all. There is some tension provided by relationship conflicts, such as the inevitable outburst between peacemaker Emmett and fist-waver Mick, who nearly come to blows at the end of Act One.