A Broth of a Boy
Irish novelist and playwright Brendan Behan is the subject of this compelling one-man play continuing through Oct. 7 at the Arsenal for the Arts in Watertown.
The title, "A Broth of a Boy," is a term of admiration for someone who has excelled in some way. The play, written and directed by Richard Smithies, stars Danny Venezia, whose Irish accent is so spot-on you’ll be amazed to know he’s a Charlestown native and Cantabridgian. Venezia commands the performance space all on his own, as he gives voice to a script drawn from Behan’s own words -- and to an array of traditional Irish songs.
The play breaks down to four parts, in two acts; all are set in bars, as Behan holds forth. As the play begins, a young Behan, a member of the IRA who has just been released from prison as part of a general amnesty, sings and drinks Guinness and playfully insults his mates in a Dublin pub.
As his monologue progresses, Behan thinks back on the last visit he paid to a close female friend who succumbed to tuberculosis; his tenderness and grief rise to the surface before he glosses them over with another round. The passage is remarkable for the way it’s contrasted in part two, set in a different Dublin bar, where, even as he complains about rejection notices, Behan drunkenly harasses women.
Part three finds Behan, now a literary success, sipping at a glass of milk as he continues his litany of charming and profane storytelling with a magazine writer at a Paris local. (Behan lived in Paris for a time.) Behan speaks of his youth and tells tales from the Dublin tenements; with him is his wife, Beatrice, described as just at the sight of a bottle of champagne, Beatrice begs her husband not to fall off the wagon.
Finally, at age 41, Behan slumps over a double gin, his speech slurred and his mind in a haze, but his drive intact.
Behan is now regarded as one of the twentieth century’s foremost writers. Like many influential literary figures, he died young; alcohol ruined his health. Venezia brings him back to life with passion in a poetic, spirited turn. This show deserves a sold out audience at every performance, especially in a city as proudly Irish as Boston.
"A Broth of Boy" continues through October 7 at the Black Box Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown, MA. Show times are 7:30 p.m. every night, Monday - Saturday, with 2:30 p.m. shows on Sundays.
Tickets cost $25 general admission and may be purchased at www.arsenalarts.org or via phone at 617-923-8487.