By Brendan Behan
Directed by Jonathan Berry
Music Direction by Stephanie Sherline
Choreography by Maureen Janson
Produced by Griffin Theatre Company
At the Theatre Building Chicago
Bawdy absurdist tragi-comedy a triumph for Griffin Theatre Company!
Jonathan Berry and his cast of 16 actor/musicians have a sprawling and highly theatrical production of Brendan Behan’s 1958 absurdist classic: The Hostage. This is a major triumph for Berry and the folks at Griffin Theatre Company! Behan’s play is part Irish melodrama, part music hall musical, part political and cultural satire (of the British and the Irish) and part circus. This is not your sentimental, poetic Irish drama. No indeed. In the Brechtian-style, Behan mixes tragedy and politics with raw non-realist action where the tone moves from dark, drink induced humor that often explodes into song and step-dancing to a serious political drama and back again. Behan consistently tries to undercut seriousness with humor in the tradition of Absurdist theatre. This structure influences Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter.
Basically, Berry’s cast of misfits set in a brothel in Dublin in 1959 operated by Pat (Eamonn McDonnagh), a former IRA operative from the ‘troubles’ of 1919-21. Together with his common law wife meg (Donna McGough), we meet ladies of the night, a couple of drag queens, a Russian sailor, a kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing former Army officer, Monsewer (Rom Barkhorder) and a ex-nun maid, Teresa (Nora Fiffer). There is the Bible-quoting Miss Gillchrist (Sara Sevigny) and her deranged lover Muleady (Jason Lindner) among the inn’s population. This three act work starts out as an energetic, spirited comedy that bursts into song and dance in between sexy encounters and loads of drinking. Humor reigns until we meet the goofy IRA agents who damper the tone especially when it is announced that the Northern Irish government will execute an IRA agent for murdering a policeman.
These IRA agents capture a young British soldier, Leslie (Rob Fenton) that they hide in Pat’s brothel. Will they execute Leslie if the IRA agent is executed? Over the evening, the misfits grow to like the innocent Brit. The movement between dark humorous satire and dramatic politics works to keep the play enticing. The sudden bursts of song and dance (many wildly exuberant) mask the fear and tragedy that becomes inevitable. The ensemble work here outstanding. I liked Eamonn McDonnagh and Nora Fiffer, especially when the spoke loud enough to be heard, as McDonnagh narrates and Fiffer uses her raw sensuality to woo Leslie into a forbidden romance. Rob Fenton played the young Brit with loads of heart. Sara Sevigny and Jason Lindner produced rich humor in several rollicking scenes.
The cast worked hard and had a good time entertaining us with their blatant satirical takes on patriotism, Irish culture and the ‘troubles.’ This is a wildly provocative theatrical experience filled with a loose structure that provokes enough chaos to make us want a pint of Guinness or two. The Hostage is a rarely produced, yet important theatrical work that Berry and the cast at Griffin Theatre can be proud of. It would work even better once the leads up their volume enough so we can enjoy Behan’s biting script.
At the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, Call 773-327-5252, tickets $18 – $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:45 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with 2 intermissions.