This is a most Irish play. The setting is 1958 and there is enormous tension between the Irish and the Brits. The play takes place in a brothel that is run by a man named Pat, who fought the British in his youth but now has a bad leg and a cynical approach. (Well, maybe that's not right. He thinks of the cause as hopeless, but obviously is sympathetic to it.) There is a somber note to the proceedings. A young Irish boy of 18, is set to be executed the next morning. He's an IRA member and was caught shooting at a policeman.
The owner of the building is a man called Monsewer. He's Anglo/Irish but in full sympathy to the Irish cause. A group of the IRA is going to kidnap a British soldier and bring him to the brothel. If the Irish boy is killed, the soldier will be too. None of the regulars at the brothel are to know of this, but of course they find out when the soldier is brought in.
The soldier is a young lad named Leslie and he really doesn't understand what's happening. He feels badly for the Irish civilians that were harmed but he didn't do it. As for the boy that will be executed, well, you can't go shooting at policeman, can you? He personally hasn't hurt anyone so why should they hurt him? And then he finds out that they really do intend to shoot him and (of course) he objects to that.
The situation of a captured soldier is absurd, but then, the overall situation is absurd for 'civilians' in a constant asymmetrical war-zone. Behan captures that absurdity well. You feel for these poor people even though the actions are hard to sympathize with. Frankly, I can't imagine what living that kind of life must be like. From a moral standpoint, I'm just going to stand back and keep my opinions to myself.
The play itself looks like it must be quite something to see. The dialogue is crackling, the characters are all interesting and the over-arching questions are thorny. I didn't mention this, but there are quite a few musical numbers too. It's hard for me to picture how that fits in. One of the limits of trying to get a feel for a play simply by reading the script instead of watching it performed.
Next up should be 'The Accidental Death of an Anarchist' by Dario Fo but I can't find it anywhere. So I'm going to abuse my authority as the person running this project and skip ahead to #95, 'The Balcony' by Jean Genet. Don't worry, I'll come back for Fo. There may be more skipping around this year, but once I settle in to the one a month routine in January, I'll be certain to stay on track.