The Limits of Pretend: A BROTH OF A BOY

Directed by Richard Smithies
Cead Mile Failte Productions
Arsenal Center for the Arts
in Black Box Theater
Watertown, MA
September 25th – October 7th, 2012
A Broth of a Boy Facebook Page

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Watertown) A one-person production can be an all-or-nothing proposition for theater going audiences. At its best, it can break the limits of human expression; at its worst, it can feel like watching someone tell a terrible joke at a party. Danny Venezia’s production of Broth of a Boy is best avoided unless you are a true lover of Irish history, for it never allows an audience to suspend disbelief that the show is anything but a lone man trying hard for us to believe in what he is seeing.

The premise of the play holds promise, being biographical monologues of Irish writer Brendan Behan, a colorful I.R.A. member and a literary rogue who drank himself to death. By all accounts, Behan was a master storyteller, and the play tracks him through his ascent and decline.

But too often, Venezia fails to tell any story. Part of that is the blocking, which takes the harder road of one-man shows. This play might have been more effective if the actor had simply pulled up a stool and started channeling Behan, but Venezia instead talks to imaginary bar-mates, some who celebrate with him and some who are trying their best to ignore him. We lose the twinkle in Behan’s wit as we try to follow Venezia’s gaze and picture those around him. One can assume Venezia is trying to capture the manic motions of a passionate Irish writer who gradually withdraws from the real world in his own madness, but the production can’t generate the sufficient spark for us to see the glow.

This is a shame since there are moments when his storytelling prowess comes through and shows the promise of what the show could be. In the first act, Venezia creates a pin-drop moment when he sits down and tells a story of watching a beautiful friend succumb to consumption. It is then that each word becomes as haunting as the beautiful Irish tragi-songs that Venezia sings throughout the production.

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