One-man show, based on the life of I.R.A. man Brendan Behan, arguably the most colorful Irish writer of the twentieth century, ‘A Broth of a Boy’ brings to light the stormy career of Behan, as famous for his boisterous behavior as for the humor, power and compassion of his writings.
Based on Behan’s writings, starring Danny Venezia and directed by Richard Smithies, ‘A Broth of a Boy is a vibrant production set in four different bars, portraying Behan at four critical points in his turbulent career, resulting in his untimely death at the age of 41.
We first meet Behan in high spirits, celebrating his return to Dublin after four years in Mountjoy Prison for shooting at police officers. The next scene is staged in a seedy Dublin den called the Catacombs, where Behan performs a wild one-man cabaret in an attempt to relieve his frustration with the Irish literary scene. We meet him five years later at the peak of his success giving a racy interview to a reporter at Harry’s Bar in Paris. Our last visit is at The White Horse Tavern in Ireland where we see him facing death with the same manic passion with which he faced life.
A natural singer and performer, Behan possessed a huge repertoire of Irish songs which are interspersed throughout the show. In his beautiful baritone, Danny performs songs ranging from traditional Celtic ballads like ‘Roisin Dhu’, to the rebel fervor of ‘The Bold Fenian Men’ and the music-hall rowdiness of ‘Take her up to Monto’.
Irish Cultural Centre
|Brendan Behan was born in the slums of Dublin, Ireland on February 9, 1923 to a republican family who had been active in the Irish War of Independence. At the time of Brendan’s birth his father was in Kilmainham Prison serving a two year term for IRA activities. He spent the first fourteen years of his life on Russell Street in a house owned by his grandmother, “Granny English.” At the age of 13 Brendan quit school to follow in his father’s footsteps as a house painter and joined Fianna Eireann, the youth movement of the IRA, where he published his first poems in, Fianna: The Voice of Young Ireland. This was also the same year, 1937, the family moved to a housing development in Crumlin after the death of Granny English.
In 1939, having joined the IRA at the age of sixteen, Brendan traveled to England on an unofficial mission to blow up the Liverpool docks. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in a borstal reformatory, after which he later wrote is best-selling autobiographic novel Borstal Boy published in 1958.
In 1942 while marching with IRA soldiers towards Glasnevin Cemetery in a commemorative ceremony for Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish Republicanism, Behan shot at two detectives and was sentenced to 14 years in Mountjoy Prison. He was released under the general amnesty for IRA prisoners in 1946. After his release he lived in Galway and Kerry where he started to write poetry in the Irish, having learned to write and speak Gaelic in prison. Like a lot of writers and artists at the time he decided to travel to Paris, where he managed to earn enough “ammunition,” as he called money, by writing pornography.
Returning to Dublin Brendan had by now become a heavy drinker but managed to make a living writing for various newspapers, such as The Irish Times and some of his short plays were broadcast on radio. He had become a regular at McDaid’s, a hangout of writers such as Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, and J.P. Donleavy. It wasn’t until 1954 when Behan’s first play was staged at the Pike’s Theater in Dublin. Like all of his other writings, The Quare Fellow was influenced by his time in prisons and the struggles of the IRA. It chronicles a day in prison leading up to the execution of a prisoner who never appears on stage.
In 1956 Behan married Beatrice Ffrench-Salkeld, The Quare Fellow opened in the Theater Royal Stratford East in a production by Joan Littlewood, where it later transferred to the West End. During the production, Behan appeared drunk on a Malcolm Muggeridge interview on B.B.C. It proved to be great publicity as the next day he was the toast of London. He would later quip “The only bad publicity is an obituary”.
Behan achieved International fame in 1958 with the opening of his second play The Hostage and the release of his novel Borstal Boy. But unfortunately fame contributed to his decline and early death from alcoholism and diabetes. From 1958 until his death in 1964 Behan made headlines for his drunkenness resulting to hospitalizations, often stumbling onto the stage during productions of The Hostage in New York, London and Paris. His last two books, Brendan Behan’s Island and Brendan Behan’s New York were dictated from a tape recorder, as he could no longer write.
He died March 20, 1964 after collapsing in a bar in Dublin. He received an Irish Republican Army funeral. As his casket made its way to Glasnevin Cemetery, thousands lined the streets of Dublin.
Not bad for a man whose bestselling novel was banned in Ireland for being obscene.
“A writer’s first obligation is to let his country down.” –Brendan Behan