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"That's what we do in Ryanga when we want to please the spirits . . . we kill a rooster or a young goat. . . .

You have a ritual killing. You offer up a sacrifice. You have dancing and incantations." As the action of the play develops, we witness disturbing forces beginning to disrupt the Mundy sisters' settled existence. Their brother, Jack, has just returned home to Ireland after twenty-five years of missionary work as a priest in Africa. "Father Jack," as he is now known is a strange and awkward presence in the house; for he is a man who has been away from home so long that he can no longer tell his sisters apart or remember the simplest English words, and who describes strange African experiences. It is questionable whether Jack an Irishman, an African, Catholic, pagan, an alien, or native to Ballybeg. He certainly appears uncertain himself about the answers to these questions, wandering through his family home as both the first-born child and a stranger.

Michael is standing downstage left in a pool of light. Michael is looking back on these events from an adult vantage point. As a narrator, he is both closely connected to those whose lives he is describing and also rather distanced from them: close enough to know the intimate details, far enough away to be able to recount them objectively. The ambivalence of this narrative stance is perhaps consequential of his personal relationship to the other characters in the play. Michael is the illegitimate son of Chris Mundy, the youngest of the six Mundy sisters. As a relatively fatherless child living in the intensely religious, small-town environment of Ballybeg, Michael is the object of both love and shame in the household. That divided feeling is suggested by the convention established by Friel for dealing with Michael's participation in the action on-stage. No child actor appears to play his role. Instead, when the adults talk to the boy-Michael they address an imaginary, invisible presence which answers them in the voice of the adult-Michael standing outside the frame of the action.

He wants to bring me up to the back hills nest Sunday We see further hints of subverted order when Rose, the "simple" sister, announces her intention of heading into the back hills with Danny Bradley, a married man, thus hinting at trouble to come. Another homme fatale arrives in the form of Gerry Evans, Michael's biological father, whose visit, his first in over a year, provides his son with "a chance to observe him." He turns out to be a charming, good-natured, but unreliable young man, full of promises but short on follow-through. An excellent dancer, he sweeps Chris across the garden in a silent waltz. But he also brings with him troubling tidings from the outside world when he announces his intention of joining the International Brigade to fight on the loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, defending "Godless Communism." Gerry is met with a combination of exhilaration and resentment, the former mostly from Michael's mother Chris, and the latter from Kate.