When Dave was in the military as a 20-something, a buddy was killed after an evening incautiously spent at a Belfast pub. Decades later, Dave relates the episode to an American researcher named Emily (Rebecca Ballinger). Emily likes to conducts her interviews with cool impartiality, but with Dave, her strategy goes badly awry.
Holmes lends Dave a moodiness that — in combination with the tangy, bantering dialogue — packs the interview scenes with suspense. One moment Dave is waxing cynical about peace; the next he is all gravelly menace, goading Emily to reveal her own secrets. He’s just plain ornery, too: Asked to describe his breakfast to test sound levels for a recording, he slouches in his chair and snarls, “A dodo egg omelet and a woolly mammoth steak. And a clementine.”
Another marvelous performance comes from Lise Bruneau, radiating both neediness and mellowing snark as Sonia, a soon-to-be grandmother who has a poignant rapport with the older Dave.
Ballinger’s Emily is an apt foil for Dave, her posture hinting at by-the-rules primness, even as her tone betrays vulnerability. Jordan Essex is not as convincing as Bobby, but Jared H. Graham is persuasively rash as Young Dave. In the roles of two pub patrons, Emily Erickson and Mallorie Stern hit the right notes of vigilance and flirtatiousness.
Scenic designer Nadir Bey’s set, forested with security-style floodlights, adds to the intensity. (Alberto Segarra designed the lighting and Heather Lockard, the costumes.)
Less successful are periodic prowling appearances by silent, gun-wielding military figures: Lurid and obvious, they push the play toward a sensationalism that, thanks in part to its interview scenes, it largely avoids.
There’s no need for such melodramatic visuals given the tension conjured by performances and script. In an example of the detail that convincingly establishes setting, stakes and character perspectives, at one point Young Dave lectures Bobby on how to safely lean against a wall that might be booby-trapped with a pressure bomb. The conversation highlights the resonance of this play in 2023, as the world marks 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
Written when McGann was in an MFA program, “The Honey Trap” won a student playwriting award at the Kennedy Center in 2018. It’s rewarding to see the theater field seize on that promise here. With a thriller’s pace, the play muses on guilt, intractable conflict and collateral damage.
The Honey Trap, by Leo McGann. Directed by Matt Torney; sound design, Jimmy Garver; properties, Katherine Offutt; movement director, Rex Daugherty. About 2 hours and 15 minutes. $10-$45. Through Nov. 19 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. solasnua.org.