Saturday, April 19, 2014
By STEVE FEENEY
Whether he finds something to be "awesome" rather than "grand" may be one of the minor indicators to determine how far along a recent Irish immigrant is in psychologically transitioning to life in America.
WHO: American Irish Repertory Ensemble
WHERE: The Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
DATE REVIEWED: Friday; runs through April 16
CONTACT: 799-5327; www.airetheater.com
Such considerations, small and large, form the basis for Ronan Noone's 2007 play "Brendan," the latest offering from the American Irish Repertory Ensemble.
Directed by Tony Reilly, the play's a bit toward the softer side of this sturdy theater company's recent fare. Of course, there is some sex, hard drinking and rough language to be seen and heard. But, as many have said, the word that comes to mind most often when one seeks to describe this play is "sweet."
The no-intermission play's 36 scene changes may threaten, at times, to distract. But spotlighted asides by the title character, delivered in the form of a letter to his sister, do help to focus things.
The overall theme of the play -- that "as long as we are good, just a good person, then we're all right" -- is certainly hard not to like.
Having left Ireland under difficult circumstances, Brendan walks the streets of Boston feeling like he's "neither here nor there." He hangs on to a painting job and visits a hooker more for companionship than anything else.
As played to near perfection by Michael Dix Thomas, Brendan is a painfully shy young man who, after spending too much time drinking and looking for faces that remind him of the old country, finally gets some annoying but valuable direction from the ghost of his recently deceased mother.
Susan Reilly plays the mom who offers commentary and advice as her son visits and is visited by a number of characters with whom he never quite fully connects. Reilly conjures an Irish version of that universal mother who wants the best for her child to the point of nearly overwhelming him.
Some of the funniest scenes in this laugh-filled 90-minute play come when she tries to give Brendan direction in his awkward dealings with the opposite sex.
Kerry Rasor is a hoot as the brassy hooker with a heart of gold who teaches Brendan how to drive (an important step in his acquiring a stateside identity). It turns out her Maria "knows" most of her young friend's acquaintances and is able to exert a little influence when it's needed.
April Singley, as love interest Rose, is a subtly persistent sweetheart who knows how to be constructively "stubborn" when taking their relationship to the next level. One may be reminded of a young Winona Ryder when seeing Singley in action.
Seth Berner, JP Guimont, Tara McCannell and Nicholas Schroeder round out the spirited cast in this gently uplifting little play.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.