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Love gone sour in 'Eden'

November 16, 2008|Susan King | King is a Times staff writer.

The intimate Irish drama "Eden" revolves around a seemingly happily married couple who realize their union is fraying at the seams as they approach their 10th anniversary. But there's also another major character that defines and shapes Billy (Aidan Kelly) and Breda (Eileen Walsh) -- the quiet country town where they live with their two children.

"Eden," which opens Friday at the Nuart Theatre in L.A., is set in Edenderry in County Offaly, a far less picturesque locale than the charming Dublin or the lush green countryside usually seen in Irish films.

"We are right in the middle of the country between Dublin and Galway," says director Declan Recks, who hails from Edenderry. "It's very flat compared to the rest of the country. There are no big cities in the Midlands. It is a slower pace here. Though it's changed a bit in the last 10 years, life is more centered around the pubs as a social outlet."

"It is so flat and brown," says Walsh, who won best actress at the TriBeCa Film Festival as Breda. "It's a heavy scenery to be surrounded by day to day, because you have got the bog that's reflected into the sky and back again. I think to live in it is oppressing. I think it very much adds little to their lives, so your own problems are as claustrophobic as the surrounding colors."

The setting is more than appropriate as Breda realizes there is something wrong between her and her husband. It's been ages since the couple has been intimate. Billy spends most of his time away from work at the local pub, where he has developed a crush on the beautiful young daughter of a colleague. Breda decides the only way for the couple to reconnect is have a date at a pub on their anniversary.

"I don't think they are aware of what relationships can be," Walsh says. "No matter where you live now, you have cable TV, so you can see what is the 'ideal' [of life]. But I think when you come from somewhere small, all you know is your own parents and family and neighbors. I think there are plenty of people just muddling through and not necessarily happy or dealing with things."

Breda isn't asking for the moon; she just wants her share of happiness. "She is a small-town girl in the sense of her aims," Walsh says. "She wouldn't necessarily be aiming for the stars. She would have done what her mom would have done -- settle down and have a nice family. She would be happy if she could be content with the marriage, but with cracks starting to appear, I think it suddenly reflects a huge amount on herself. Like all women, she blames herself."

Though set in Ireland, the story of how "Eden" was made began in L.A. In 2000, Recks and writer Eugene O'Brien were here screening their short films at an event for the now-defunct nonprofit organization the Irish Screen. During the festival, O'Brien, who also comes from Edenderry, be- gan telling him about his new two-character play called "Eden."

"You could identify the characters straight away," Recks says, "and see a few people that you knew in the play or thought you knew." Plus, he says, "Eden" was a rare opportunity to have another area of Ireland represented. "A lot of media and theater is very Dublin-centric," he says. "It's not coming out of rural Ireland."

The play, composed of monologues, premiered to great acclaim in Dublin in 2001 -- interestingly enough, Walsh's older sister Catherine played Breda onstage -- and has been performed around the world. Recks tried to adapt the play as a feature film, but ran into problems because of the play's structure.

"The difficulty was finding a device or a way to know what was going on in their heads," he says. "In the monologues you could tell everything. I kind of wanted to preserve two points of view, which kind of goes against all basic screenplay-writing principles that there should only be one central point of view."

Eventually, Recks put it aside and directed episodes of the Irish TV series "Pure Mule," which O'Brien wrote and was also set in the Midlands. The series was such a hit that the same producers agreed to make "Eden" with Recks directing. But this time O'Brien wrote the screenplay, with Recks and producer David Collins assisting with structure.

"We went back and completely forgot the play and concentrated on the two people and tried not to include everything," Recks says.

Walsh, who worked in "Pure Mule," was their only choice for Breda.

"I think it was important for them to go younger for the film, because you needed to feel this was the first time the couple had approached this problem," Walsh says. "Catherine's Breda was very beautiful. I think we have similarities in the sense that we tend to play women that are very earthy and very grounded and yet are kind of lost at the same time."


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