By Tulis McCall
Well, I am three for three now. This is the third show I have seen where the audience leaped to its feet at the curtain call, and I am sitting in my seat wondering what show they all saw.
The long and short of this is that I kept waiting to discover what “Gabriel Byrne – Walking With Ghosts” was about. It is not easy with a one person show. I have struggled with that myself many times. I never did discover what I was looking for.
A chum of mine told me the other day some advice that was passed on to her while she was writing a speech – which by its nature is a one person show – the advice is this: you begin by describing what you are going to tell your audience. Two – you tell them what you promised. Three – you conclude by reviewing what you have successfully told them. Four – take your bow and vamoose.
This might have been a good reference tool for Mr. Byrne. As it is, “Walking With Ghosts” is a meandering piece that wanders about like a lost child at a carnival. It samples food and rides and when the parents are not found it settles down and goes to sleep.
It all started with a dream of Dublin that was so engaging it prompted Byrne to go home.
The man I am now longing to see the world as a child again, when every sight and sound was a marvel. I can see myself, a ghost boy, running among the trees, and along by the river, past the chapel, the cinema, the factory, and up to the fields where the lough horses turned the black earth to the sun. Or lying for hours under the upside down sea of the sky, watching the clouds change into camels or God’s face.
This was an engaging beginning. I am in that place as well, thinking so much about my past, the town where I grew up and the house we lived in. The problem here is that we move chronologically through Byrne’s life, and it is a slog of events that do not amount to much. Neither the writing nor the delivery make it over the footlights to get hold of us.
Byrne’s childhood was shaped by the Catholic Church of course until he could get away. Nuns with waxy hands explain how souls get into babies and what awaits if you end up in Limbo (It’s not good.) There is a failed stint at seminary with the obligatory abusive priest on whom retribution cannot be delivered because it is too late. Ho hum.
After the seminary, Byrne returned to Dublin, a failed priest, and pretty much failed for the next 15 years until he ended up in an amateur acting company and fell in love with the theatre. Slowly the parts started coming in. He appeared on television – a big leg up that was. A milestone was working with Richard Burton, which experience affected him so deeply that he stooped drinking. His sister’s mental illness pulled him back home again and her passing shattered him. He walked the paths of aging and death with both his parents and found solace and comfort there.
And here he is now, explaining to us all that the ghosts of the past are not walking with him, they are inside him.
No surprise there. Would that there were.
Not for nuthin, but Byrne spent an inordinate amount of time gazing at the floor in front of him. Moving back and forth on the stage and letting his gaze fall to the floor over and over again. It led me to think that there were script prompts appearing and disappearing, Not huge clawing things, but enough for him to see where he was in the script. It was very strange as well as distracting.
And that is that. I wish there had been more. I truly do. But there was no there there. What direction Lonny Price provided remains a mystery. Byrne has the gift of Irish gab, but the story and his connection to it are flimsy at best.
Gabriel Byrne – Walking With Ghosts, written by Gabriel Byrne, Directed by Lonny Price.
Scenic & Lighting Design by Sinéad McKenna, Costume Design by Joan O’Cleary, Sound Design and Original Music by Sinéad Diskin.
At the Music Box Theatre through December 30. TICKETS HERE