Rock Doves

The Troubles may be over for Northern Ireland, but that doesn't mean that the people are any less troubled. Marie Jones, the playwright of Stones in His Pockets, the successful West End production that made its way to Broadway, now gives us Rock Doves, about a quartet of scrappy survivors — the "rock doves" of the title, a colloquial term for city pigeons — who endure despite continued hardships. But though Jones has great intentions, they're smothered by the conventionality of her execution.

A boy (Johnny Hopkins) bursts in on a dilapidated flat — Charlie Corcoran's wonderfully textured set oozes with grimy history — that serves as a home for Knacker (Marty Maguire), a friendly drunk who teeters on insanity. The boy claims to be involved in the local gang of Loyalists and is looking for refuge from the cops. Soon after, he's joined by two of Knacker's cohorts: no-nonsense Bella (Natalie Brown) and her brother Lillian (Tim Ruddy), a tranny who specializes in performing Tina Turner hits for the Loyalist thugs, who offer him and his sister protection.

This rag-tag bunch seems ripe for some interesting insight into the post-conflict realities of daily life. Unfortunately, Jones' plot is formulaic. By the time intermission comes around she still hasn't managed to create any danger or conflict, and the second act plays out with predictable twists and few captivating turns. Director Ian McElhinney adds little with his conventional choices: Actors are placed awkwardly around the set and don't react with much motivation to earth-shattering news.

Luckily, the actors provide a great deal of comedy, particularly Brown, who delivers her lines with a world-weary wit, and Maguire, whose Knacker is a constant joy to watch. We've seen quirky Irish characters plenty of times before, but both Brown and Maguire make them feel fresh once again.

Presented by the Irish Arts Center in association with Georganne Aldrich Heller and Anita Waxman

at the Donaghy Theatre at the Irish Arts Center, 553 W. 51st St., NYC.

Sept. 16-Oct. 28. Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.

(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.