In “Brendan,” scribe Ronan Noone crafts a gentle, sweet-natured play about a contemporary Irish immigrant’s struggle to leave the memory of the old country and his late mother behind him. Trouble is, mum just won’t leave the poor lad alone in America as he copes with loneliness, alienation and dysfunction. The work should prove attractive to auds and theaters looking for a play that goes straight to the heart of Eire while stirring American immigrant emotions, too.
Those weary of Irish-themed plays requiring dirt floors or psychotic protagonists can wrap themselves in this warm blanket of a drama that combines elements of “Marty” and “Da.” This version could even be called “Ma,” with a recently deceased parent popping up to admonish and guide a lost soul of a son.
Boston is the setting for the work, receiving its preem at Beantown’s Huntington, where emigre Noone has found an artistic as well as a personal haven. His one-hander “The Atheist,” starring Campbell Scott, was produced on the same stage by the same director just a month ago, and his “Baile” trilogy also was presented there.
“Brendan,” while far from startling or stunning, has graceful insights into the immigrant experience as Noone’s hero adapts to the new land’s sights and smells, language and customs. “Things aren’t grand here,” writes Brendan (Dashiell Eaves) in a letter to his sister. “They’re ‘awesome.’ ”
Once again, designer Alexander Dodge creates a boldly imaginative set, this time using Boston’s distorting, reflective skyscrapers to represent the cold urban environment in which Brendan feels so lost — with just a slice of cobblestone street peeking through to remind him of his native land.
Play opens with Brendan receiving a letter from his sister informing him that his tough-love mother died but insisted he not be told until she was buried. Mum may be gone but she’s hardly forgotten as the play follows Brendan through his mundane, lonely life and suppressed grief. Brendan has few friends, an ordinary job and little love, save in the arms of a friendly prostitute named Maria (played with hearty humor by Kelly McAndrew).
When Brendan meets Rose (Natalie Gold), a neighbor who also feels estranged because of a skin disfigurement, the possibility of some kind of happiness surfaces for this sad puppy of a man.
Mum (Nancy E. Carroll) is certainly rooting for the match and so is the audience, mainly because it’s hard to take much more of Brendan’s forlorn looks and increasingly annoying social awkwardness. But thanks to the fragile charm of Eaves, we stick with the lad’s sketchy transformation, through thin and thinner.
Justin Waldman’s direction is simple, fluid and honest, and the cast is splendid, especially the leads. Eaves is so adorable the audience might be tempted to take out adoption papers. Carroll plays Brendan’s mother with the appropriate no-nonsense, wry, world-weary veneer that of course masks a deep love and caring spirit.
Gold maneuvers the tricky part of the vulnerable neighbor, protective of her own heart but longing to reach out as well.
Noone continues to develop his craft and find that artistic voice that acknowledges his roots while taking in the land of awesome.