Francie Brady (Nicholas Barasch) sits cross legged on the floor flipping through channels on a GIANT television set. Ireland in the 1960s. We see The Twilight Zone, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke…then static. Four people dressed in street clothes and pig masks briefly surround the boy (ostensibly 14 years old), then move on. The animals personify Francie’s demons, mental illness that will gradually swallow his life. Despite cleverly staged musical numbers, the omnipresent beasts remain sinister rather than comic.
Francie regales us with stories about his idyllic childhood. He and best friend Joe (Christian Strange) fish (stick rods should be thicker), playact, bully and steal a precious comic book collection from prim, nerdy, British classmate Phillip Nugent (Daniel Marconi). What to some might seem a prank comes off mean. Mrs. Nugent’s (Michele Ragusa) complaint to Francie’s parents is fruitless. His irresponsible Da (Scott Stangland) is an alcoholic, his Ma (Andrea Lynn Green) beaten down to passive submission. Presumably based on class, Phillip’s Ma calls the Bradys “pigs.”
Nicholas Barasch (Francie) and Andrea Lynn Green (Ma)
Though the truth of his past is very different than he remembers, Francie relives it before us, oblivious and outwardly cheery no matter what. Uncle Alo’s (Joe Cassidy) Christmas visit looks like respite, but drunken Da ruins the party. (There’s implication of an extraneous love story between Alo and candy store owner Mary – Kerry Conte.) Francie walks in on his Ma trying to commit suicide…and shrugs. He gets more aggressive with Phillip and Mrs. Nugent, then runs away to Dublin stealing and lying (encouraged by the pigs) to create an ersatz stable environment. Meanwhile his unbalanced Ma is incarcerated.
Back home again, things escalate as Francie’s violent tendencies explode unchecked. Da is useless. The boy is taken out of school and goes to work for a butcher. (Props will make you wince.) Vandalism, horrific violence, and consequences follow. All Francie wants, he says, is for things to go back the way they were – except they never were.
The ensemble is terrific. Anyone who sings is a pleasure to hear. Andrea Lynn Green is immensely sympathetic as Ma; Michele Ragusa equally grounded as a trying-to-do-her-best Mrs. Nugent. Daniel Marconi has a field day with Phillip’s song and dance (perhaps the only instance of humor) while managing to appear otherwise lost and embattled.
Nicholas Barasch (Francie) and Christian Strange (Joe)
As Francie, Nicholas Barasch is chillingly believable. The world sees an angelic face and hears manners. Barash’s façade is pristine. Cursory cruelty is shockingly sudden, madness harrowing.
Also featuring: David Baida, Carey Rebecca Brown, Polly McKie, Teddy Trice.
Young playwright Asher Muldoon filters everything through Francie’s perspective which limits compassionate audience response. Some balance would be helpful. Pig songs are too difficult to hear to make a judgment. A few of the ballads are lovely. Does the play mean to be a horror piece or the kind of Grand Guignol satire exemplified by Sweeney Todd ?
Director Ciaran O’Reilly creates varied and visually droll musical numbers as skillfully as he depicts specific character, particularly the credible pendulum swing of Francie’s emotional polarity. Packaged in innocence, the boy’s brutality is extremely painful to watch.
Charlie Corcoran’s TV is marvelous, a neighbor’s kitchen apt, but for a crocheted cloth on the table. I don’t get the (well executed) graffiti walls.
Projection design by Dan Scully is excellent, though again, a reserve – I understand the pig wallpaper, but not the significance of repeated trees. Orla Long’s costumes are just right. Stanley Allen Sherman’s pig masks sheer evil.
Sound design has issues. Perhaps because of encroaching pig masks, porcine numbers are too often unintelligible. (M. Florian Staab)
Photos by Carol Rosegg
The Butcher Boy
Book, Music and Lyrics by Asher Muldoon
Based on the novel by Patrick McCabe
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theater
132 West 22nd Street
Through September 11, 2022