Monday, July 18, 2016

Happy Medium Theatre Presents "Brendan" by Ronan Noone - A Hauntingly Well Told Tale

Playwright Ronan Noone has written a gripping play that perfectly captures the struggles of a young Irish immigrant who has been sent by his mother to America to escape family disgrace at home, and to try to make a new name for himself in the U.S.  The story contains many familiar elements: enmeshment between an Irish mother and her only son, the struggle to find true love, homesickness, fitting in as a new America without totally abandoning the heritage of The Old Sod. It comes as no surprise that alcohol and Irish pubs play important roles in Brendan's journey.

Under the direction of Victor Shopov and Brett Mark, this Happy Medium Theatre cast tells the story in a way that is moving and very timely.  A key element of Brendan's journey is his desire to obtain both his driver's license and his U.S. citizenship.  The scene in which he is among a group of new citizen's being sworn in is poignant indeed, and stands in sharp contradistinction to the rhetoric coming out of the Trump campaign.  I wanted to stand and shout: "Take that, Mr. Trump.  This is what makes America great!"

The ensemble cast is terrific, mastering various versions of an Irish brogue with alacrity. As the title character, Brendan, Avery Bargar is very convincing as the survivor of a failed suicide attempt back home in Ireland. He is forced into exile by a strong mother who wants him to make good in his second chance at life. During his time in America, he receives three letters from his mother, which he does not answer.  Finally, a fourth letter arrives from his sister, informing him that their mother has died and has been buried.  It was the mother's wish that he not be told about the funeral until it was over, so that he would not be tempted to return to Ireland. He his haunted by his mother's voice and interference for most of the play.  The mother is played by Kiki Samko in a performance that is one of the best of the season. It is hauntingly effective.

Audrey Lynn Sylvia plays Maria, a prostitute with a heart of gold who befriends Brendan and teaches him to drive.   Costume designer Cara Pacifico has provided a rich array of outfits that enable Ms. Sylvia to establish a very credible character. Hers is another strong performance. Lesley Anne Moreau is Rose, a neighbor with a very prominent Port wine stain on her face.  Rose and Brendan follow a rocky path between friendship and romance, with unsolicited input from Rose's policeman brother, played by Mr. Shopov in the performance I attended. Mikey DiLoreto is particularly strong in his dual roles as judges, and Michael Underhill juggles several key roles with his usual aplomb.  Jay Street handles the roles of Fred, Cop, and Bum and Melody Martin plays both Daisy and Ashling.

Avery Bargar as Brendan, Kiki Samko as Mother
Michael Underhill as SteveO
Happy Medium Theatre
Boston Center for the Arts
Through July 30th
Photo: Josephine Anes
Scenic Design is by Marc Ewart, Lighting by Connor S. Van Ness and Sound by Vincent Morreale. The structure of the play is very effective.  The play begins with the voice of  Brendan's sister speaking the content of the letter that announces their mother's death. Throughout the play, the voice of the mother frequently alludes to Brendan's failure to answer her letters.  Near the end of the play, Brendan pens a letter to his sister, filling her in on all that has happened to him in America.  In a sense, the previous scenes are placed in context as dramatizations of the news that he writes in the long-awaited letter.

This is a production you do not want to miss. I was deeply moved.  The play will run at the Boston Center for the Arts through July 30th.

Link to purchase tickets



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