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Theater Review (Boston): Brendan by Ronan Noone

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It’s been a good year for award-winning playwright Ronan Noone. Brendan is the second play he has had produced this season at the Huntington Theatre Company. The first was the acclaimed The Atheist, which starred noted actor Campbell Scott.

Likewise, it has been a good season for the Huntington itself, given the reception of The Atheist and what I expect to be a similar reception for Brendan, not to mention Noone’s growing notoriety as a new, young theatrical talent, with plays produced in Boston, New York, and London. While The Atheist and Brendan ran in succession, this served only to emphasize the vast differences between the two plays. They share, however, Noone’s sharp wit.

Dashiell Eaves plays Brendan, a shy, disconcerted Irish immigrant living in Boston, accompanied by his often-caustic, yet oddly supportive friend Steveo (Ciaran Crawford), and a well-meaning prostitute named Daisy (Kelly McAndrew). Brendan is haunted by his recently deceased mother (Nancy Carroll), who is always present and ready to second-guess his decisions and provide off-hand remarks about his life; though present throughout the play, she is seen only by Brendan.

Brendan is both hilarious and touching, seamlessly merging humor and social satire with melodrama and pathos, with no single element ever being outdone or undone by another. Often indeed they enhance each other. Although there are clearly painful elements, we manage to laugh through them while still being touched by the characters’ situations.

The acting is mostly excellent throughout, though Eaves is occasionally unremarkable and vanilla as Brendan. This occasionally (though not frequently enough for it to be a major problem) makes us apathetic to his situation. Nancy Carroll’s performance is flawless. The roles played by the rest of the cast, while well performed, aren’t notable enough for one to judge the ability of the actors. Justin Waldman’s direction is undoubtedly part of the reason for the success of both Brendan and The Atheist, while Noone’s writing perfectly captures the cultural essence of both Boston and America as a whole.

The balance of poignancy and humor in Brendan is a testament both to Ronan Noone’s talent as a playwright and to the talented production team at the Huntington that is jetting the company to the top of the Boston theater scene. This is the wittiest piece by Noone yet, which is a triumph given the quality of his past work.

Noone and company provide the depth needed to make Brendan’s struggle the focal point of the play, while including dry comedic references to American and Irish culture. These satirical references serve two purposes: as comedic fodder, and to demonstrate Brendan’s awareness of his own personality flaws and the difficulty he will face in his new country.

Brendan is playing through November 17th at the Calderwood Pavilion in the Boston Center for the Arts. Written by Ronan Noone, directed by Justin Waldman, produced by the Huntington Theatre Company.

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About Greg Hard