Barry's "Boys" Makes the Grade

Theater Review by Diana Barth
Irish Voice
April 3, 2001

Sebastian Barry's Boss Grady's Boys might be described as a character study, or a tone poem. There isn't much plot, but that's unimportant here. It's somehow comforting to view a pair of some- what melancholy old geezers (brothers, in this case) taking care of one another, arguing, slaving off the strange, frightening world, succumbing to past memories, both painful and joyful.

We're in the interior of a humble cottage on a forty- acre hill-farm on the Cork/Kerry border. There's an old iron bed, a table and chairs, a couple of three-legged stools, a low brick fireplace in one corner. The the- ater's brick walls enhance the rustic effect. Brothers Mick (William H. Andrews) and Josey (Tom Toner) seem to belong to another era. Josey is simple-minded and often gets on Micks nerves. But Josey is sweet and good and Mick admits at one point that he loves his brother dearly. They are both there for one another.

Josey putters around and talks a lot as he offers to make tea "for a ha'-penny." It's just an affectionate way of putting things. Mick sits dourly at the fireplace smoking his pipe.

Soon, however, were in the midst of a lively scene. Mick has gone to visit friends for a poker game. In addition to Mick, there's Mr. Reagan (Alfred Cherry), Mrs. Swift (Kay Micheals) and the very flirtatious Mrs. Malloy (Margo Skinner). She is clearly on the make for Mick, but he will have none of her, although she is quite sexy and appealing. Mick's hear clearly belongs to brother Josey.

Back home, Mink even philosophizes about marriage. "We're married," he says to Josey. "We sleep in the same bed."

Boss Grady's Boys is lyrical and poetic, as are all of Barry's works. For the sound of the language alone, the play is a pleasure. Remarkably, this cast boasts no Irish among them, but one would never know it. Particularly outstanding is Tom Toner's fine rendition of Josey. Director Ina Marlowe, producing artistic director of Chicago's Organic Theatre Company, has served her company and the playwright well. (Marlowe also direct- ed mid-west premiere Barry's Steward of Christendom) Effective and appropriate set/lighting/sound design by Eric Nightengale and costume design by Moira Shaughnessy serve to enhance the production.

Eventually, scenes from the past individually flood the two main characters. Their birdlike mother (Corliss Preston) appears to Josey. She is mute but wonderfully expressive with her body and gestures. Preston's performance is remarkably potent, although she is onstage for only a few brief periods. Josey adores her Later, Mick somewhat jealously admits that Josey was their mother's favorite.

On several occasions, a girl (Meghan Wolf) appears to Josey. She is wild, undoubtedly a fantasy, a sexually-charged fantasy at that. Josey throws himself on top of her at one point, then she wriggles from his grasp and vanishes, leaving Josey alone and puzzled. Their stern father (Bob Sonderskov) also appears to Mick. The Father — Mick can almost never please him — brandishes a fishing pole as he tries to catch a fish. Finally, disgustedly, he claims that there are no fish today Mick is disappointed at the ruined day and the lost opportunity to be close to his father.

Briefly it's mentioned that Mick has had work in the past. He made uniforms for the inmates in the near- by mental hospital. The uniforms themselves were long and spindly, like the sick men who wore them.

For those who know Sebastian Barry's wonderful The Steward of Christendom, it is clear that the hospital is the one where the protagonist of Steward stayed. This was the character of Thomas Dunne, played a few years back in New York by the late, great Donal McCann. Boss Grady's Boys is an earlier play, though threads of emotion and plot drive forward into the playwright's ensuing work.

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