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Kings

***CRITIC'S CHOICE*** - Although the whiskey-fueled contours of "The Kings of the Kilburn High Road" are familiar, a singular immediacy attends its mix of mayhem and elegy. Jimmy Murphy's study of transplanted Irishmen confronting their thwarted dreams enjoys a raucously absorbing U.S. premiere by Theatre Banshee.

Set in the shoddy side room of a London pub (serviceably designed by Arthur MacBride), "Kings" follows an impromptu wake. A quarter-century ago, six young men arrived from Ireland to make their fortunes and then return home. Today, they are five, gathering after the death of one under murky circumstances that provide the central metaphor. Amid echoes of O'Neill, O'Casey and countless other Irish playwrights, the wit and power of Murphy's script derives from keenly observed character interaction, as director Sean Branney's strong cast demonstrates.

Jap (Dan Conroy), once the carefree ringleader, now indulges in embittered outbursts and soggy assertions that sit uneasily with guilt-ridden alcoholic Maurteen (Dan Harper), his pledge to stop drinking futile in this company. Milquetoast family man Shay (John Jabaley) mainly keeps his own counsel; peacemaker Gitna (Matt Foyer) valiantly strives to remind everyone why they've gathered. Enter successful Joe (Steve Marvel), who broke from the pack years ago, and "Kings" moves from raggedly boisterous to lyrically mournful.

Branney's staging, despite the occasional over-poised placement, generally lands with authenticity and punch. He certainly honors Murphy's hilariously foul-mouthed cadences, interval-framing songs and hairpin shifts of mood, as do his uniformly excellent actors, with Conroy and the never-better Foyer subtly contrasting tonal poles. The boozy trek to pathos may not feel quite new-minted, but these life-battered "Kings" ensure that it's consistently engrossing.

Reviewed by David C. Nichols for the Los Angeles Times


The Kings of the Kilburn High Road

What is home to the emigrant? Is it, in the lowercase sense, merely the place where one lays ones hat? Or is it a more mythic capital -- an idea of both origin and aspiration in which the psychic distance between the two becomes the self-measure of the man? In Dublin playwright Jimmy Murphy's remorselessly probing elegy, the question is more than academic. For Murphy's six, middle-aged Irish expatriates who, 25 years earlier, left County Mayo to seek their fortunes in London's working-class Kilburn district, home has become a kind of spiritual sickness that, for one of them, has already proved fatal. And as the survivors gather in a local pub to mourn his passing, a potent cocktail of whisky, guilt and recrimination dissolves what's left of their camaraderie and dreams of youth to reveal only the bitter disillusionments and regrets of old men. Under Sean Branney's sure-handed direction, Dan Conroy gives a blistering performance as Jap, the hard-drinking men's bellicose, hair-triggered leader who, with his sidekick and flatmate, Git (the fine Matt Foyer), has the least to show for the lost years while being the most intransigent in his denial. Maurteen (a simmering Dan Harper) and Shay (John Jabaley) occupy a middle-ground of resigned acceptance of their meager circumstances, while Joe (Steve Marvel), as the group's single, successful exception, serves as the truth-seeking provocateur needling the friends to a lacerating self-knowledge.

Reviewed by Bill Raden for the LA Weekly


The Kings of the Kilburn High Road

***CRITIC'S PICK*** In the program notes for this U.S. premiere of Jimmy Murphy’s sorrowful lament to the shattered dreams of a quintet of itinerant Irish laborers who came to London together a quarter of a century earlier eager to make their fortune, director Sean Branney compares the men to the day laborers who haunt the sidewalks in front of our local Home Depot. Considering our country’s current economic crisis, however, the impact of this story will hit even closer to home for many.

These proud but beaten old friends gather at a shabby North London pub to knock back a few and sing raucous songs about their dearly missed homeland as they mourn the loss of the sixth member of their original group, a man whose drunken demise was not only premature but also of questionable circumstance. Branney’s muscular direction, even when occasionally suffering from glaringly static staging issues, keenly guides a dynamic troupe of actors playing the five whiskey-soaked and screamingly dysfunctional remaining comrades.

Dan Conroy powerfully assays the most demanding role as the loud and fiercely stubborn leader of the pack, successfully conveying the man’s explosive anger and seething disenchantments—although his obviously trained tenor might be tempered a bit for the size of the house. Dan Harper, as a man struggling with alcohol and deeply ashamed of what it does to him, and John Jabaley, as the quintet’s most frequent mediator, are the rocks of the production, quietly mining intensely real individual wells of strength lurking beneath their characters’ disappointments. Steve Marvel transforms effectively from back-patter to mood-breaker as the group’s only successful member, forced to explain his reasons for breaking the bonds tying the others together and clearly exacerbating their failure. Still, Matt Foyer is the production’s particular standout as Gitna, a loose-limbed, sweet-natured good ol’ boy whose painful eleventh-hour remembrance of witnessing his friend’s death is riveting and excruciatingly heart-rending.

Murphy’s play, devoid of any possible sense of hope, might be tough to experience if one’s life is caught these difficult days in its own miasma of personal regrets or a sense of impending obsolescence—unless, of course, the soaring nature of watching exceptional artists fearlessly plying their craft has the ability to make your world be well once more.

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder for Back Stage West


The Kings of the Kilburn High Road

The setting, the characters, the behavior -- a pub, heavy drinking, nastiness -- are all quite stereotypical Irish in Jimmy Murphy's "The Kings of the Kilburn High Road," receiving its U.S. premiere at Burbank's Theater Banshee. As the booze flows at a wake in this north London pub so, too, do the confessions and the quashed anger, making "Kings" more than standard bar fare: This is a sly and affecting work about age, identity and lost opportunities.

A quintet of Irishmen, lifelong friends who have spent the last 25 years living in London, have gathered to toast Jackie, their friend killed in a train accident. Play's chief protagonist Jap (Dan Conroy) enters first. Jackie's death has brought Jap to the boiling point, a contrast to Maurteen (Dan Harper), Shay (John Jabaley) and Gitna (Matt Foyer), each of whom conveys a more traditional message of sorrow. They argue, brawl, sing and, eventually, bawl over their loss, which ultimately serves as a metaphor for their own failings and their stubborn unwillingness to return home less than successful.

While discussing their youth, dreams and Maurteen's sudden temperance, the talk continues to circle around to the whereabouts of Joe (Steve Marvel), the one member of their troupe who moved to London 25 years ago and made something of himself in the construction business. His arrival cheers up the others. For starters, Joe realized the ambition the boys had in 1975 and his presence allows them to feel like royalty. Secondly, he's also the only one with enough cash to pay for beer, whiskey and sandwiches.

The celebration of his arrival turns dark the more Joe peers into the lives of each of his schoolboy chums. The two married men, Maurteen and Shay, have trouble at home; Gitna and Jap struggle to hold onto jobs, and may soon be homeless. On top of that, Joe senses there's an untold story behind Jackie's death that, once it is revealed, gets each man hurling invectives and vocalizing personal pain, much of which stems from their struggles with their Irish identity.

Entire cast is a model of consistency. In the company of his mates, Conroy's Jap is never going to reveal any sense of failure or misgivings about his life, just as Foyer ensures that Gitna is never anything but congenial. Harper's Maurteen is filled with conflict; his angrier moments are eerily real. Jabaley, as the milquetoast Shay, gets the least to do since his character has the home life with wife and children that all the others envision for themselves. Marvel's Joe makes a believable journey from mournful to unhinged.

Straightforward as "Kings" is constructed, Sean Branney's production connects with the oddly placed bathos throughout the play. Laughs are sparked at odd times and by actions that are not universally comic; one has to wonder how much of the humor is intentional.

Michael Mahlum's lighting is bright and unchanging; Arthur MacBride's set of a pub's side room is functional with just enough clutter.

Christy M. Hauptman's costumes are nondescript at first glance, yet, as the characters reveal themselves, their clothing reinforces the stories being told.

Reviewed by Phil Gallo for Daily Variety


Kings is a Wild Ride of Emotion

Burbank’s Theatre Banshee kicks off the new year in fine style with the U.S. premiere of The Kings of the Kilburn High Road. Playwright Jimmy Murphy’s internationally acclaimed script is a roller-coaster ride of emotions as five Irishmen gather in a seedy London pub for a friend’s wake. Overseeing this presentation, crackling with intensity as the relationships between these characters unfold, is Banshee co-founder Sean Branney. His attention to detail is most evident in the conversational tone found in Murphy’s script. It’s as though we are privy to five lifelong friends struggling to come to grips with their own impending mortality. Having cast a quintet of flawless actors certainly doesn’t hurt things either. It’s yet another feather in the cap of both Branney and this award-winning production company.

Driving the proceedings is Jap, played with muscular bravado by Dan Conroy. Blinded by his need to top others with his never-realized pipe dreams and self-proclaimed accomplishments, Jap’s braggadocio covers his true insecurities. As Maurteen, actor Dan Harper effectively brings to life a father of six whose drinking bouts have led him to incidents of domestic violence. John Jabaley as Shay, a lower-level businessman, is the play’s voice of reason as the others spout on about their plans to return to Ireland. Shay, through Jabaley’s exquisitely understated performance, keeps the group grounded in reality. Likewise, Matt Foyer as Jap’s roommate, Gitna, occupies an important position, that of peacemaker, among this ragtag band. Foyer displays a masterful ability at undercutting the tension with perfect comic timing. Additionally, his delivery of a second-act speech detailing the death of their friend is heart-wrenching. Finally, Steve Marvel arrives on the scene in the role of Joe, the last and certainly the most successful of this lot. Joe owns a small construction business with a dozen employees beneath him. As this group seems to thrive at times on each other’s failures, Joe’s progress earns him a mixture of admiration and jealousy from his companions.

As the whiskey flows, so does playwright Murphy’s witty and often caustic repartee between his characters via the cast’s unanimously excellent dialect work. Director Branney balances the show’s breakneck pace with quiet moments of self-reflection. One minute rollicking, the next sharp and even violent, what becomes clear is the sense of lost opportunities that nearly all of these men carry with them.

Arthur MacBride’s scenic design is spacious yet carries with it a parallel to the men’s lives, as the room is cluttered with stacked furniture and leftover directions from some previous event held there. Costuming by Christy M. Hauptman clearly delineates each man’s social and financial status. All in all, this is a thought-provoking theatrical piece.

Reviewed by Dink O'Neal for the Burbank Leader/News-Press


Moving Take on Irish Pub Tale in Banshee's Kings

The U.S. Premiere of Jimmy Murphy’s play, “The Kings of the Kilburn High Road” follows its adaptation as an Irish language feature film by Tom Collins in 2007 and, like so many Irish pub plays in Theatre Banshee’s repertoire, it falls well within this winning company’s area of expertise. It’s not quite true, however, that if you’ve seen one Irish play you’ve seen them all because, despite its mise en scene, this is a moving, sensitively- motivated slice of the messed-up lives of a passel of washed-up boys from the good ol’ sod. These men have long been disabused of the myth that they are all set to make a fortune in a couple of years in England and return to Ireland, and their families, as Kings. But when the drink’s flowing, especially if someone else is buying, they’re hard put to turn their backs on a drop or three of Mother Ireland’s milk of human kindness. After 25 years of drinking, boasting and fighting with each other, they’re confounded by the death of one of their ‘brothers’ who’s indeed made it ‘home’ to Ireland…in a casket. If that doesn’t call for a drink, then they’re not real Irishmen!

Dan Conroy, fierce as Jap, a fireplug of a shanty Irishman who’s long been fighting the wrong fires, is still harboring the idea that one more drink is all it will take to get him over the hump of his wretched life on street corners waiting for that big chance, the one that will take him back to his family and home. This is our home now, argues Maurteen (a dapper Dan Harper), who’s drinking Lemonade only in an attempt to deal with problems he has with not much money and the women in his life, but only when he’s on the sauce. Matt Foyer is more laid back as Gitna, a happy-go-lucky fellow who’s ready to go along to get along, on his slightly wobbly feet, as long as the whiskey holds out. Shay (John Jabaley), is the stalwart of the group, there to pay for his round of drinks, but less scrappy than his buddies. And then there’s Joe (Steve Marvel, a newcomer to Theatre Banshee), who is nothing less than an actual boss, with his own construction company, who’s under suspicion for not being a good son of the sod because he doesn’t hire ‘paddies’ (Irishmen) as laborers. When he gives them the straight dope as to why not, it kind of breaks the bonds they thought they shared as fellow countrymen and drinking buddies.

Wishing and fighting, and drinking and wishing make for a sad relationship with reality in the wasted lives of these wannabe tough, wannabee flippant soldiers of misfortune, or missed chances. The race is lost again to Whiskey Johnny. We’ll probably find them all again at the next wake, just as disillusioned, just as drunk, and just as lost to reality. And, hopefully, in just as good acting form.

Superb performances, stirringly directed by Sean Branney, and acted to a fare-thee-well by a terrific cast. If these wasted lives provide no inspiration,…well, there’s always tomorrow to make a new start. Drink up, boys, and hoist one for Ireland.

Reviewed by Madeline Shaner for the Park LaBrea News/Beverly Press

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