Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

A Life

By Hugh LeonardA Life by Hugh leonard

Directed by BJ Jones

At Northlight theatre skokie

Poignant darkly comic play sums up the life of a man

Nothlight Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director BJ Jones, loves to mount telling Irish plays.  Their latest is Hugh Leonard’s follow up to his hit play, Da. A Life (1981) featuring a secondary character from Da, Desmond Drumm. A Life is a poignant dark comedy about a day in the life of Desmond Drumm as he comes to grips with his own mortality.  During one unremarkable day, he strives to “total his sums, to demand an audit to know what he amounts to.”

A Life by hugh leonard

Set in 1977 and 1937, we see two couples both in their early twenty’s and in their 60’s.  Two sets of players deftly tell Drumm’s story.  John Mahoney and Matt Schwader play Desmond; Penny Slusher and Joanne Dubach play Dolly; Linda Kimbrough and Melanie Keller play Mary while Bradley Armacost and Robert Belushi play Kearns. The shift between the present and the past is nicely handled as Leonard’s script and Jones’ direction keep the story seamlessly flowing. We are indeed in the world of 1937 and 1977 in Dalkey, Ireland living Drumm’s life. The articulate authentic Irish brogues don’t hinder the work in any way.

A Life by hugh leonard

John Mahoney anchors the play as the intellectual, highly educated wordsmith, Desmond Drumm, who loves to spout original witticisms and stinging insults. He is a bitterly cynical civil servant now facing death. He decides to make peace with his lifetime friends Mary and Kearns with whom he has not spoken to for six years.  This character study  develops the young foursome as youths and seniors. We see what makes Desmond bitter as he drive Mary (the only woman he truly loved) into the arms of Kearns. Desmond settles for Dolly.

A Life by hugh leonard

We grow to understand each character through Leonard’s eye for detail and from the fully honest performances by this wonderful cast. A Life is filled with droll wit and biting insults from Mahoney’s Desmond who uses his command of language and ascorbic wit to attack others as a means of self-defense.  He now realizes that the insults have cost him friendships.

A Life is both an engrossing work filled with fully developed characters and a poignant look at how bitterness and judgmental attitudes can lead to an unfulfilled life. We see that many of us have some of Desmond’s traits in us.

Mahoney is not alone here–he gets terrific performances from Penny Slusher, as Dolly;  Linda Kimbrough as the strong loyal Mary and Bradley Armacost as the tolerant old friend Kearns. Matt Schwader is outstanding as the youthful Desmond while Melanie Keller is terrific as young Mary with Robert Belushi as Kearns and Joanne Dubach as Dolly.

A Life is a character driven drama with outstanding performances, stinging dialogue that is darkly humorous and poignant. It is also a cautionary tale warning us that the power of words, especially insults can be devastating. John Mahoney’s wonderful performance makes  A Life worth seeing.


Tom Williams

At Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL, tickets $35 – $50, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7:30, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at  8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

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