Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shay Duffin as Brendan Behan


One of the more impressive things about Shay Duffin’s portrayal of Irish rebel, playwright, poet and novelist Brendan Behan (Besides his impressive acting) is the amount of glasses of Guinness he downs in the course of the play. Behan was an alcoholic and so Duffin portrays this bard with a bad elbow as a prolific downer of libations. But Duffin can obviously hold a drink and he pulls off his one man show “Shay Duffin as Brendan Behan: Confessions of an Irish Rebel” (At Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater), with accomplished showmanship and humor.

Behan was born in Dublin in 1923 and died in 1964. In both his plays and his writings he took shots at the Church, the State, England, authority: anything that smacked of sham or hypocrisy.
His signature play was “ The Borstal Boy” which he wrote when he was in prison.

Duffin had a casual acquaintance with Behan in Dublin, when Duffin was a boy. Duffin captures this expansive, brilliant, witty and tragic man, with the expert skills of a well-oiled mimic, as well as a scholar of the nuances of speech and tics of personality.

Duffin had this reviewer on his toes from the start, quoting Behan on his views of theatre critics:

“Theatre critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they watch performers, but they are unable to do it themselves.” I could have sworn he was looking at me… no matter… well noted.

Behan, as portrayed by Duffin, proceeded to regale the audience with his tales of prison, his time as an Irish Republican Army operative, his writing and drinking life, and his too early, tragic demise. Duffin has mined a great treasure chest of great lines from Behan like:

“They say I drink like a fish. Well, we don’t drink the same f...g thing.”

Here is Behan’s account of his father berating his long-suffering mother:

“Kathleen if Jesus was married to you, he would climb back on the cross!”

And this succulent droplet of Behanian philosophy about the lean times in Dublin:

“To eat was an achievement, to get drunk a victory.”

The play follows the decline of Behan, and at the end the spotlight narrows on Behan’s wizened face, to show the sorrows behind the drunken bombast of the man. Behan died in a hospital in Dublin in March of 1964. His words were heard clearly on a cold Somerville night in March 2007.

Doug Holder

To order tickets call 1-866-811- 4111

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