Immigration Explored In Funny & Touching 'Brendan'
If, as the old adage has it, "you can't go home again," then that truth deserves another, which is that wherever you're from is always with you. Regardless of the relative importance of nature or nurture, the past is an umbilical cord that is never completely cut. This idea is dealt with in a bittersweet manner in Ronan Noone's Brendan. The West Coast premiere of the play at Theatre Banshee is funny and touching in equal measure.
Shy, awkward Brendan (Patrick Quinlan) emigrated from Ireland five years ago, but he still hasn't fully adjusted to living in the United States. He's worked in a succession of unfulfilling jobs and still hasn't learned how to drive, stuck in a loneliness made worse by the death of his mother (Kathleen M. Darcy). He tries to move forward despite his grief, enlisting his prostitute friend Maria (Catia Ojeda) to teach him how to drive. He even finds a woman he likes, his neighbor Rose (Devereau Chumrau), but with the voice of his mother constantly pushing and berating in his head, his future happiness is in some question.
Quinlan does a superb job as Brendan, portraying him as imperfect but sympathetic, and his strong performance anchors the play. Darcy is delightful as Brendan's departed mother, her brilliant comedic talents on display underlain with a quiet vein of sorrow. Chumrau is charming as the patient Rose, and Ojeda brings emotional resonance to the kind if blunt Maria. Amir Abdullah is amusing as Rose's wary cop brother Victor, and Eamon Sheehan is appropriately edgy as Brendan's angry coworker Declan.
McKerrin Kelly's consistently creative direction takes what could have been a somewhat static play and fills it with visual ingenuity, from using swinging lights and a bustling ensemble to display Brendan's disorientation to creating a visceral near car crash scene mainly with lights and sound effects. The subject of Noone's play isn't particularly original, but his strategy of putting most of the play in Brendan's head is effective. The scenes where Brendan tries to drown out the voice of his mother—the past that won't go away—by turning up his music or playing his harmonica are vivid and create a memorable character study.
Brendan plays at Theatre Banshee through August 18. Tickets are available online.