"Boss Grady's Boys": Saving Scenes Too Vibrant to Be Dreams

By D. J. R. Bruckner
New York Times
April 7, 2001

Life is a long loneliness in Sebastian Barry's "Boss Grady's Boys," but the speech of the lonely is lyrical and often amusing. It takes time to realize that ceaseless warfare between imagination and memory has left these boys empty and scoured. In fact, in this play about two old bachelor brothers on a farm in the remote hills of Ireland, the six other characters may exist only in the minds of the brothers.

In the 78th Street Theater Lab's production, the director, Ina Marlowe, ignores Mr. Barry's stage directions. They make clear that the other characters, except possibly one, live in the dreams or memories of Mick Grady, who wraps the pain of isolation in stoic reticence, and Josey, his "very peculiar, unnecessary brother that I have come to revere," despite Josey's irritating childishness.

Mr. Barry owes Ms. Marlowe for rescuing two of the brief play's most passionate episodes from dream sequences: the boys' father telling a very young Josey that he favored him precisely because he was simple-minded, and a card game among four totally isolated people. After all, the playwright has made his point with enough stark symbols: the Grady parents are long dead and the mother, when she lived, was mute; the brothers' few friends in a nearby village are widows or widowers; and a passing girl who arouses in Josey a moment of bitter lust seems an apparition. Even Josey's dog is dead and herds sheep only in Josey's memory.

In this production, two widows who play cards with Mick are so vibrant, warm and insistent in their desires that in their 10 minutes onstage they very nearly steal the show from the brothers. Ms. Marlowe's judgment is right: this is not the stuff of dreams.

All in all, "Boss Grady's Boys" is more poem than play; most ballads have tighter plots.

But there is a strong cast here, notably William H. Andrews as Mick and Tom Toner as Josey, and Margo Skinner and Kay Michaels as the cardplaying widows. And the language Mr. Barry gives all the characters is so rich in imagery it makes you think they've been well rewarded for all their troubles.


By Sebastian Barry; directed by Ina Marlowe; sets, lighting and sound by Eric Nightengale; costumes by Moira Shaughnessy; dialect coach, Susan Cameron; graphic design by Steven Zeller; stage manager, Kimberly Reiss. Presented by the 78th Street Theater Lab, Dana Zeller-Alexis, producer, in association with the Organic Theater Company, Ms. Marlowe, producing artistic director. At 236 West 78th Street, Manhattan.

WITH: William H. Andrews (Mick), Tom Toner (Josey), Margo Skinner (Mrs. Molloy), Kay Michaels (Mrs. Swift), Alfred Cherry (Mr. Reagan), Bob Sonderskov (Father), Corliss Preston (Mother) and Meghan Wolf (Girl).

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