Boss Grady's Boys

Written by Sebastian Barry
Directed by Ina Marlowe
At the 78th Street Theatre Lab

Review by Christine Boylan
Show Business
April 4, 2001

Sebastian Barry, besides being heir to a long tradition of lrish wordsmiths, invests his characters with a respect and awe of the English language that is all but missing in recent American works Barry doesn't waste time being clever: his characters are simple people, real people, who may spin tales and exaggerate, but who also tend to use words in a reverent and still surprising way.

In Boss Grady's Boys, regretful Mick and simple Josey Grady are living out their tired years in their family home on a hill in Ireland, haunted by the ghosts of their troubled lives. This production is directed by the Organic Theatre Company's Ina Marlowe. Both Barry and Marlowe hit the audience full force at the start of the play, with the gentle knives of the Grady's conversations under the hot reds and misty blues of the lighting. The space is art intimate, black box setup, with spare, useful furnishings that seem to be extensions of the characters. The play itself is funny and painful; the flashbacks do not follow any set pattern, but seem to stem from any small thing that pricks the boys' memories. Barry and Marlowe are concerned with capturing and extrapolating a moment in time for a certain set of people — something that the theatrical medium does exceedingly well (Death of a Salesman, Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love), especially in this intimate atmosphere.

Like two good storytellers in counterpoint, one could Listen to Mick and Josey (William H. Andrews and Tom Toner) for hours. Their accents are nearly flawless, and they can handle the trickiest of lines: "I made mad men mad looking in my time," says Wick of his job tailoring straitjackets for the town asylum — is a line that is both funny and sad and difficult to say, but the audience doesn't lose a bit of it. Andrews and Toner each deliver beautiful speeches and carry off some challenging physical acts firmly rooted in character — it is a joy to watch them work.

The other characters in the play are parts Mick and Josey's memory. Margo Skinner as Mrs. Malloy is especially deft at wringing the sadness and attitude out of Barry's monologues. The lyrical writing style renders each voice distinctly; they're all singing different stanzas of a unified poem.

The strong ensemble acting is really a result of good direction. Marlowe's work here is seamless, the blocking natural and evocative, even when the scene calls for spare movement. The shoeing of a horse, for example, is handled with the everyday danger and beauty inherent in the act.

Sebastian Barry is known primarily in New York for the 1997 production of his The Steward of Christendom at BAM and Our Lady of Sligo at the Irish Rep last sear son. Boss Grady's Boys is in a limited run and is certainly worth seeing.

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