By Holli Harms
The world premiere of the musical The Butcher Boy, with book, music, and lyrics by Asher Muldoon, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, at The Irish Rep had the audience on their feet whooping and hollering at the end of the performance.
The story is set in 1960s Ireland, where a child in trauma attempts to make sense of his world by simply imagining all is well. No one in the Brady family lives in the real world, they live in a place where hope for the future is a constant dream as they struggle with brutal alcoholism, depression, anger, and violence. Francie Brady (the astonishing Nicholas Barasch) is 13 years old and he wants nothing more than for things to stay the same where he and his best mate Joe Purcell (Christian Strange) can play all day with nary a care in the world. It is this friendship that is part of his need for simple pleasures to keep him from losing himself in his pain. He blocks out his father’s violence and his mum’s suicide attempts believing that blocking it will make it as if it never happened.
Life may have gone on like this with Francie living in denial had it not been for the arrival of Mrs. Nugent (Michele Ragusa) an uppity woman who thinks herself better than all the rest, and her son, Phillip (Daniel Marconi). Francie takes an instant disliking to the Nugents and how they look down on him and his parents. It is Mrs. Nugent who declares him and his people pigs and from there Francie is out to get her and Philip. It is also that word “pig” that sparks Francie’s mental decline as he starts to imagine talking pigs who tell him what bad things to do to people.
Francie is a boy who has suffered trauma from the first day he came into the world. Trauma can alter a person’s way of thinking. Nicholas Barasch has internalized Francie’s trauma in a heartbreaking performance. He is emotionally a 4 or 5-year-old encased in the body of an ever-growing young man. He wants nothing more than to please the adults, and in the pleasing, believes he will receive the love he so desires. He never had a chance, not in this family, not in this town.
The entire cast is dead on inventing rich characters. Barry McNabb’s choreography is fast-paced and athletic and also simple and small such as in the sublime number Still Here sung by Michelle Ragusa and Joe Cassidy. Ciarán O’Reilly’s direction is a romp of catapulting violence and gentle quiet. The cast sprints from character to character enriching the stage with the members of this small section of Ireland’s landscape.
The set with its large TV screen is used to enhance the musical numbers and the scenes with images and actual TV footage. It is as alive as the production, ever-expanding, and moving. The band behind the screen headed by David Hancock Turner, is marvelous.
It is a beautiful piece of theatre, a thought-provoking heartbreaking piece of theatre, and it is all the more incredible when you discover that Asher Muldoon is all of 19 years old. Asher first encountered the novel The Butcher Boy when he was in high school and fell in love. This is his love letter to Patrick McCabe’s story. Is it not a perfect piece of theater, there are sections that run over, but it is a damn good piece of theater that will leave you pondering the story and characters for some time to come. Thank You Irish Rep for championing new and emerging creators.
The Butcher Boy features book, music & lyrics by Asher Muldoon, with music direction by David Hancock Turner, direction by Ciarán O’Reilly, and choreography by Barry McNabb.
Cast: Nicholas Barasch, David Baida, Carey Rebecca Brown, Joe Cassidy, Kerry Conte, Andrea Lynn Green, Daniel Marconi, Polly McKie, Michele Ragusa, Scott Stangland, Christian Strange and Teddy Trice.
Emma Camp, Sam Hartley, and Dan Macke – understudies.
Creative: scenic design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Orla Long, lighting design by Kat Zhou, sound design by M. Florian Staab, orchestrations by Muldoon and Sammy Grob, and projection design by Dan Scully. Mask Design is by Stanley Allan Sherman Mask Arts Company, Properties are by Brandy Hoang Collier, Amanda Quaid, is the Dialect Coach and Rick Sordelet is the Fight Director. April Ann Kline is the Production Stage Manager, Jade Doina is the Assistant Stage Manager, Liam Prendergastis the Assistant Director, and Emma Camp is the Assistant Choreographer.
The Butcher Boy at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 W 22nd St) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage.
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Irish Rep requires that all audience members wear a mask while inside their building.