Raucous, bawdry camaraderie at Banshee

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amy1101BY AMY LYONS

A Seisiun of sorts is filling Theatre Banshee’s little theatre with accordion bleats and bodhran beats. Traditional Irish music is the backbone of the company’s current production of Brendan Behan’s “The Hostage,” a play about Irish/British rivalry and the raucous camaraderie of the common man.

That old Irish song (l to r) Jenn Pennington, Dan Conroy, Vash Boddie, John McKenna, Casey Kramer, Marco Tazioli, and Andra Carlson photo by Ralph Nelson, ©2009 Theatre Banshee

That old Irish song (l to r) Jenn Pennington, Dan Conroy, Vash Boddie, John McKenna, Casey Kramer, Marco Tazioli, and Andra Carlson photo by Ralph Nelson, ©2009 Theatre Banshee

A brothel in Dublin doubles as home and hearth for Irish nationalist Pat (John McKenna) and his wife Meg (Jenn Pennington). The house is owned by the aging Monsewer (the rowdily comic Barry Lynch), a Anglo-Irish comrade of Pat’s from the Irish Civil War whose mushy mind is kept somewhat intact by his incessant bagpipe playing. Pat and Meg run the joint, doling out whisky and women in an environment of verbose good cheer laced with hints of Irish melancholy and raw sarcasm.

Practicing on the Bagpipes (l to r) John McKenna and Barry Lynch; photo by Ralph Nelson, ©2009 Theatre Banshee

Practicing on the Bagpipes (l to r) John McKenna and Barry Lynch; photo by Ralph Nelson, ©2009 Theatre Banshee

Soon, the misfit family of whores, transvestites (a heavily eyeshadowed Dan Conroy) and old Irish coots is disrupted by a British prisoner. The IRA drags The Soldier (a show-stealing Patrick Joseph Rieger) into the Dublin house of ill repute and proceed to guard the place with military meanness. The IRA troops are calling for the release of one of their own men in return for the release of The Soldier. As time ticks away, we’re constantly reminded that the boy in the Belfast prison is scheduled to be shot soon, a pronouncement that begins to whiten the knuckles of The Soldier.

Rieger brings wit and pathos to the play’s pivotal character, playing up The Soldier’s 19-year-old bravado, while slowly revealing his mounting fear. The actor is charmer, heartbreaker and tragic hero all in one.

The ensemble cast is solid all around, showing up with Irish pluck and comic bitterness throughout. Spontaneous singing sessions add levity to Behan’s text while sometimes filling us in on Irish history. McKerrin Kelly directs with a mostly solid hand, but sometimes focus gets split a wee bit too much and we’re not sure which bunch of on-stage rowdies to follow. Show up early to see some seriously fun hooting, hollering and harmonizing.

Through August 16 at Theatre Banshee, 3435 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. www.theatrebanshee.org

Amy Lyons is a professional freelance journalist and theatre critic, with a degree in Theatre Arts and English from UMass, Boston. She started her journalism career at The Boston Globe. Her articles, theatre reviews and photos regularly appear in numerous publications, including the Beverly Press, Valley Life Magazine, the Santa Monica Mirror and www.nohoartsdistrict.com. She is a member of the Drama Critics Circle.

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