THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY, Mary-Arrchie Theatre. Mary-Arrchie has made a typically ambitious choice with Brian Friel’s politically sophisticated The Freedom of the City. Director Richard Cotovsky successfully juggles the many layers of the story, which involves the last eight hours in the lives of three civil-rights demonstrators slain in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland. Strangers until they stagger into the private office of the Mayor of Derry during an assault by British police, they fight, play, and tell their personal stories. Meanwhile Friel flashes forward to the inquiry into their deaths and introduces us to an American professor who sardonically analyzes the culture of poverty and revolution.

Solid performances and a spare but believable 1970s set make the play’s intellectual and emotional layering work. Effectively combining realism and agitprop, Mary-Arrchie delivers an important history lesson given the fragile peace in Ireland. A powerful reminder of this civil war’s complexities, the play has a grim humor and playful earnestness that make the conflict both exhilarating and painful.

–Carol Burbank