For most people fate has written the script before they’re old enough to have a speaking part. Let’s face it, where you’re born ends up having a lot to do with who you eventually become.
It’s what you do with this information, when you finally figure it all out, that makes all the difference.
For Irish actress (and Belfast girl) Geraldine Hughes there was no question -- either she stayed at home in West Belfast to live a life like her mother’s (with half a dozen kids, grinding poverty and a husband down at the pub or at the races) or she could take her one big shot at escape. Thank God she made the leap at the age of 18 before she really thought about it.
'Belfast Blues,' her celebrated one-woman play about the life she led (and the one that came after it), is playing at the Barrow Street Theatre each Monday at 8 p.m. from Monday, March 8 through Monday, April 26.
It’s a rare opportunity for New Yorkers to see the acclaimed Irish actress (who nowadays stars alongside Hollywood heavyweights like Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone) in the show that made her famous, and for that reason it’s already selling out. It’s the kind of play that people who have seen it will press your hand and insist you do likewise.
For Hughes it could all have been so different. She grew up in the projects of West Belfast where The Troubles found a daily flashpoint.
As a child she saw gun battles between the IRA and British soldiers outside her house. She saw a grown men die on her doorstep. Most people would have called that a brutal war zone, but Hughes had to call it her childhood.
In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, Hughes was thinking of the similar fate faced by Iraqi kids growing up between the bombs and bullets of Baghdad (and also of the kids who would be sent from the U.S. to fight too) and it reminded her of her own experience.
'Belfast Blues' originally grew out of that awareness, and from a few short stories that she had previously written about the city and its characters. Listening to her read them, her friends immediately saw it was a show.
“I said to them there’s no way I would ever get up onstage and talk about myself,” Hughes tells the Irish Voice.
“Ultimately what happened was I was speaking the stories and I became the people I was speaking about. What really made me have the courage to tell the story was because the Iraq war was just starting and I was thinking about the kids on the street, and I just thought kids really never have a voice when it comes to war so maybe I can give this wee girl (her younger self) a voice.”
But don’t imagine for a minute she’ll bore you with a big sob story. This is a Belfast woman we’re talking about.
Belfast women can endure the unendurable by laughing at it all and having the craic. Hughes is no different. Although her personal tale could cure deafness she knows how to laugh at all the absurdities that surround her.
Says Hughes, “I’ve forgotten in a way this is actually my story. The one thing I was certain of it was a story to be told with a great sense of humor because the craic is what gets us through it all.
“If I were to tell this story on any type of serious note people would leave. I would rather eat glass that sit there and listen to someone talking about how hard their life was, you know?”
Instead there’s humor, there’s dream’s and there’s also kind of a miracle that happens when Hollywood comes to town, to a war zone really.
One miracle is when Hughes is selected out of hundreds of children to go to America to make a film about Northern Ireland. Although she has to return to Belfast after the film was completed, she gets a brief glimpse of a world beyond the one she’d always known. It transforms her.
“When I saw America I thought, that’s it. That’s the only escape,” she recalls.
“Ultimately I worked hard enough to go to UCLA. I still really don’t know how I made that happen. I don’t know how I had the courage at 18 to leave and go so far away and do that. It was the need to have a greater life.”
Belfast Blues opens at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street, New York, on Monday, March 8. Visit www.barrowstreettheatre.com.
What Irish phrases you need to learn before you visit Ireland