It seems that torment often comes with great talent.
|Photo courtesy of The Lyric Theatre (Belfast). Adrian Dunbar as Brendan Behan and Samantha Pearl as Lianne in a scene from Janet Behan;s “Brendan at the Chelsea” at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre through October 6.
Brendan Behan, iconoclast, playwright, writer, documentarian of life in New York, Irishman, genius, and hard drinker, is a case in point. Behan came to New York for the opening of his play, “The Hostage” in September 1960 and soon moved from the Algonquin to the Chelsea Hotel. There he narrated his book on New York, which was published after his death at the age of 41, and caroused mightily with New Yorkers of all stripes.
It is at the bohemian hotel that we meet up with Behan (Adrian Dunbar) in his niece, Janet Behan’s tribute “Brendan at the Chelsea,” on tour at the Acorn in the Lyric’s production through October 6th. Brendan Behan was a literary lion, and welcomed in the city’s literary, theatrical and boho circles that he embraced so wholeheartedly.
Drink was his nemesis and he also embraced that with all his heart. Dunbar, who also directs “Brendan at the Chelsea” is a marvelous Behan. He gives a full-throttle performance as a force of nature. Matching him, but with the appropriately quieter intensity, is Pauline Hutton who is a very fine Beatrice to his roaring Behan. The ensemble, rounded out by Richard Orr as his song-writing neighbor George (and others), Samantha Pearl as Lianne, a Katherine Dunham dancer who is charged with caring for the wayward Behan, and Chris Robinson as Don, whom Behan meets on an excursion with his wife, Beatrice, to Fire Island’s Pines, (and in other roles), do excellent work in the narration of the plot.
The play takes on the large project of conveying genius and torment with intelligence, although “Brendan at the Chelsea,” is an uneven work. There are moments when it strays too far in exposition, having taken on perhaps a bit more than is easily managed. Something one could also say of its central character.
The production holds more than just interest for those who know Behan’s work. “Brendan at the Chelsea” is a welcome entertainment.
For more information about “Brendan at the Chelsea,” visit www.BrendanChelsea.com.