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Drugs, Gangs & Violence: A Solution in the theatre?

Stabbings, drug related killings, crime lords ordering killings from their prison cells, inter-family feuds – these seem to be becoming part and parcel of life in 21st century Ireland. In the north, where paramilitaries on both sides once ruled, there are still signs of in-fighting and out-fighting. What’s the answer?

Rather surprisingly part of the answer can be seen in a production coming to the An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny next Thursday (8th Nov).

‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ is set in late 50’s New York. It’s a city of gangs, drugs and violence where only the toughest survive. Certainly it is no place for a friendless Puerto Rican kid with a family he'd rather forget. When Nicky Cruz is initiated into the ranks of the notorious Mau-Mau gang, his craziness and skill with a blade make him one of the most feared figures in the city's underworld.

David Wilkerson is a country preacher in a comfortable parish. One night sitting in his study reading a magazine he comes across the account of a New York gang called the Dragons and how they brutally attacked and killed a fifteen-year-old polio victim named Michael Farmer.

The story revolted him. What on earth could possess him to go to New York to preach to fighters, hookers and drug addicts armed with nothing but a bible and the message of God's love? What happens when David finally comes face to face with Nicky Cruz?

The Cross and the Switchblade is a cracking story – I remember reading it as a teenager, and then reading Nicky Cruz’s story, “Run Baby Run”. But it’s more than a cracking story, it is one with implications for Ireland, and even for our town – where violence, drugs and alcohol take their toll, especially at the weekend.

This pulsating play toured to huge acclaim in 2000 and 2001 and was seen by over 12,000 people. This year they’ve made the production even better. The ‘Big Issue’ magazine’s verdict on the play was, “Stylish. Strong. Profound”. A BBC review says, “A completely unique production. Their message sinks in. A ‘must-see’ outstanding production for all ages and beliefs. Pure theatre at its best.”

Come along and see for yourselves this true story, and its implications for today.

Mark Loughridge –