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    The Hostage

    The unbeatable lightness of Behan

    The Irish Rep makes the most of Brendan Behan's Vaudevillean romp "The Hostage" about a captured British soldier who's to be executed in the morning and the women captors who love him.


    The Irish Repertory Theatre's 23rd production is Brendan Behan's vaudeville-esque treatise on language, politics and love — "The Hostage" originally written for 150 pounds of drinking money in the 1950s.

    Company: Irish Repertory Theatre.
    Written by: Brendan Behan.
    Directed by: Charlotte Moore.
    Cast: Terry Donnelly, Jacqueline Kealy, Johnnie McConnell, Barry McNabb, Fidelma Murphy, Anto Nolan, John O'Callaghan, Denis O'Neill, Ciaran O'Reilly, Derdriu Ring, Ciaran Sheehan, Erik Singer, James A. Stephens, Steven Xavier Ward and Elizabeth Whyte.

    Related links: Official site
    The hostage in this story is a young British soldier kidnapped by the IRA in retaliation for the upcoming hanging of an 18-year-old IRA member by the British army. (A member of the IRA since he was 8, Behan was jailed for terrorist activities at age 16 — in this play he satirizes both sides of the divide.) The hostage is stashed away in a rundown whorehouse for the night as the hour of the hanging approaches.

    Although supplied with packets of cigarettes and treated gamely by the bawdy-house inhabitants, all of whom attempt to seduce him, the soldier is to be shot in the morning if the hanging of the IRA man is not stayed. The chambermaid and the hostage, the only truly young and reasonably innocent members of the household, fall for one another in a short and believably impassioned affair all the while morning approaches.

    The Hostage  
    The theater, a beautifully kept 140-seater on 22nd Street, is a perfect spot for this work from Ireland — its lobby smells like the Grafton Street Laura Ashley store in Dublin. Founded in 1988 by producing/directing team Ciaran O'Reilly and Charlotte Moore, the company is well funded, supporting a staff and a large cast of salaried actors — no small feat without the heavy government funding that buoys equivalent theaters in Ireland. Their work is superbly produced with 30,000 audience members a year. No surprise then that a role at the Irish Rep is a highly prized credit among New York's most talented actors.

    The lead actors in "The Hostage," Erik Singer and Derdriu Ring, play the soldier and chambermaid with sexy sweetness. The boarding house occupants are the more than usually eccentric gaggle of hookers, pimps, missionaries, johns, screeching landladies and the like. Directed by Charlotte Moore, the action occasionally drops into the audience to great effect. The bottom-baring Russian sailor deliciously embodied by John O'Callaghan flirts with lucky stargazers at the top of the show. Mr. Mulleady in an exacting Hagenesque portrayal by actor-producer Ciaran O'Reilly dumps missionary pamphlets on top of the audience. Occasionally the bawdy melee falls into song and jig never so beautiful as when uber-tenor Ciaran Sheehan lets loose his golden voice.

    Originally written in Irish, Behan's script is the show's biggest star, embracing a dozen literary and theatrical styles from the burlesque self-parody to polemical diatribe. His writing, like his life, alternates between the intoxicating and the intoxicated. The odd smattering of the Irish is dropped into this translation — it would be nice to hear even more. The pace of the production is somewhat rushed for a leisurely drunken elegy and many of the actors are prone to shouting when they should be speaking. If all moments were as slowly and as fully realized as the young lovers scenes, however this production of Behan's "The Hostage" would be perfect.

    DECEMBER 2, 2000

    Reader comments on The Hostage:

  • Not enough info   from Kristy Briscoe, May 10, 2001
  • Re: Not enough info   from Niamh, Jan 16, 2002
  • Re: Not enough info   from Liam, Dec 11, 2012
  • The Hostage   from Tim Sennett, Nov 25, 2004
  • wishes for Erik   from Sheikh Nisar, Apr 22, 2006
  • wishes for Erik   from Nisar, Feb 5, 2007

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