The Hunt for Red Willie>Press
LA Times BackStage West
The Irish Herald

Best Scenic Design - Arthur MacBride, Best of 2004, Dany Margolies, Back Stage West
Best Actor - Matt Foyer, Best of 2004, Dany Margolies, Back Stage West

Reviews for Theatre Banshee's The Hunt for Red Willie

Run.  Don’t walk.  Come and see what all the talk is at the West Coast Premier of playwright Ken Bourke’s The Hunt for Red Willie, now playing at Theatre Banshee, Burbank, California.
Critically acclaimed director, Sean Branney’s, interpretation of Ken Bourke’s 1829 play is masterfully crafted, fast-paced, and witty.  Sean’s brilliant combination of clarity and conformity facilitates the plays humor and sexual innuendo.  Together with a clever storybook stage design, excellent assemblage of actors, unrelenting, and sometimes masked, laughter from the audience, and the infinite question of “who is Red Willie”, makes Theater Banshee’s season ending production a hilarious, laugh out-loud, pure Irish craic-up.
The Hunt for Red Willie is a delectably appealing plot of twist and turns that steadily combines sex, lust, morality, love, deceit, family secrets, murder, life, and death, with an unsubtle amount of humor and innuendo.  Bourke’s comedy is sure to appeal to the most critical connoisseur of comedy and Irish wit.
Set in 1829, County Donegal, Ireland, the town is crawling with such unforgettable characters as the questionable Padre, the town eejits, local tarts, a deliciously wicked and corrupt British Captain.  Of course there is his conflicted sidekick Sergeant, and the adorable, and the sought after local lass.  Of course, no story would be complete without the hero of our story, which, until now, will remain a mystery.
Branney has managed, yet again, to put together another incredibly talented assortment of cast and crew members, some of which include Matt Foyer, Buck, whose credits include appearances on Days of Our Lives, and Michael Guzik, lighting design, whose credits include Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.  Jon J. Haybale, Q. Pat the Ram, known for his role as Grigori on The Love Boat, and John Jabaley, Srgt. Tanner, whose been seen in such films as Purgatory Flats, The Chaos Factor, and Avalanche also lend their talents to this hysterical production.  In addition, Andrew Leman, props, fabrics and graphic design, whose work has been seen on American Beauty, Scream 3, What Lies Beneath, and The West Wing.
Don’t forget to top the evening off with some great Irish fare and fun at Timmy Nolan’s Pub.  By one get one free meal, compliments of Timmy Nolan’s, with each ticket purchase from the Theatre Banshee.

The Irish Herald, reviewed by Vicki McCann

Reviews for Theatre Banshee's The Hunt for Red Willie

Oh, that Red Willie! He's a fiendish lad, he is. And now, after being blamed for the death of a poor English landowner named Harry, he's being chased across the countryside of 1829 County Donegal by all manner of military men, family members, and hapless others who have been pulled into the laughable pursuit along the way. Written by Ken Bourke, The Hunt for Red Willie employs many of the classic devices of comedy: silly disguises, deliberate confusion, sexual innuendo, gender-switching, a fast-moving plot, and a small cast playing a large number of roles.

Director Sean Branney supports the setup by maintaining a light, swift pace, and keeping his actors in high gear. Arthur McBride's clever storybook scenic design features 14 "pages" of different locations, depicting woodcut designs from a century ago. This concise design allows the energetic cast plenty of moving around space--a necessary consideration indeed considering the quick changes and the comical chases going on backstage, across the stage, and in the house. Michael Guzik's lighting design and Quinn O'Hanrahan's sound are perfectly functional, but do little to enhance the increasingly frenzied atmosphere.

The hilarious and hugely talented Matt Foyer should be teaching a class on playing multiple characters. He gets the biggest workout and is the highlight of the show in his four distinctive roles: Uncle Buck, the lecherous godfather to Harry's frisky daughter, Bessy (Leslie Baldwin); Father Gobbett, a rather queer, reclusive priest; old man Woody, father to young man Fardy (a delightful Josh Thoemke), who's in love with Bessy; and, briefly, poor old Harry himself. Rounding out the engaging cast are Noah Wagner as The Host, McKerrin Kelly, and John Jabaley. If you want to know the other characters these actors play, just take a look at the program, which follows the farcical tone of the show--and be good at anagrams.

Back Stage West, reviewed by Terri Roberts

Cast Enlivens Red Willie

BURBANK — As farces go, Ken Bourke's convoluted yarn is somewhat difficult to follow at times in "The Hunt for Red Willie. Still, with quaintly barebones production values and energetic performances, director Sean Branney and his ensemble pull it off admirably.

Theatre Banshee's fairly sharp West Coast premiere is playing at Burbank's Gene Bua Theatre.

Set in County Donegal in 1829, Bourke's tale recounts a villainous British army captain's attempts to wed an uncooperative local heiress while hunting down the title character, a masked Robin Hood-type outlaw.

Branney, along with his fleet-footed cast of six, brings to life a lively baker's dozen worth of personages via lightening quick costume changes.

Josh Thoemke expertly pulls double duty as both our hero, Red Willie, and his nefarious counterpart, Captain LeBlanc. But it gets even better. In a climactic onstage struggle with actor Noah Wagner doubling as the masked bandit, Thoemke hilariously delivers lines for both characters.

Meanwhile, John Jabaley, in a well-tuned performance, provides guffaws as both a dimwitted village idiot and LeBlanc's second in command, Sgt. Tanner. Leslie Baldwin and McKerrin Kelly imbue their respective dual roles as maidens and servants with strongly drawn characterizations.

As a good naturedly lecherous Uncle Buck, Matt Foyer, along with the aforementioned Wagner, who kicks things off as the story's narrator, supply excellent support in what might otherwise be overlooked roles.

Technically, director Branney and scenic designer Arthur MacBride have wisely opted for the less-is-more credo. A large fabric storybook stands upstage opening pages wide to reveal backdrops for each of the play's 13 chapters. Leaving the downstage area primarily vacant facilitates movement and allows for Michael Guzik's lighting to play trippingly across Laura Brody's collection of period costuming choices.

Quinn O'Hanrahan's sound design consists of a luscious collection of Emerald Isle tunes perfectly setting the mood for a production that pays homage to Irish playwrights of old.

News-Press, Reviewed by Dink O'Neal

A Fine Farce, as Farces Go

Theatre Banshee's The Hunt for Red Willie is a textbook farce on a storybook stage.

I'm a bit biased against farcical comedies. Let me explain.

When I was in the 11th grade, one of my secret archenemies was this broad named Rachel, a red-headed, wedding dress-wearing, cute-upturned-nose-and-freckles "drama person". The kind of girl who jumps on the cafeteria table and starts singing "Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show for no other reason than because they are serving French toast sticks that day for lunch, and it makes her really happy.

"Eff you, Rachel!" I would scream at her in my head, cursing her silently for being everything I wanted to be. I wanted to be up on the cafeteria table, singing and dancing, hearing people clap and whistle for me, but I had the self-esteem of a typical high-schooler: I hated myself and I wanted to die.

Rachel had this glorious laugh that made people want to be around her. I had the bitter, sniggering laugh of a spurned old man. Rachel had friends who bought her little wrapped presents (I know this because I spied on her), I had friends who ... wait, I didn't have any friends in high school.

Rachel had the lead part in this French farce play our school put on at the end of the year. She, of course, was fabulous, and I grew to hate her even more (even though I secretly loved her. Love and hate are inextricably connected, though I didn't realize it back then.) In turn, I grew to hate farce comedies, with a passion that burned like the light that shone in Rachel's Jesus-loving eyes (did I mention she was also a devout Christian? Not only was she perfect, but she gets to go to Heaven, too.) My narrow little mind could not disentangle farce from Rachel, and the two are forever linked.

My bias against farce theatre is probably not fair to The Hunt for Red Willie. On paper, it's a fine little (farcical) production about a mysterious outlaw (Red Willie) who finds himself the suspect of a murder and goes on the run in the hills of Donegal, Ireland, in 1829. Madcap chase scenes ensue. Randy townsfolk make sexual innuendos, driven to a heated frenzy by the thought that they, too, could be the next victim of Red Willie. More madcap chasing.

Although not a ground-breakingly original premise for a play, the actors made up for what the play lacked. Leslie Baldwin (who played both Bessy and Moya) was especially sublime. I am usually bothered if I can tell when an actor is acting (something that is constant in theatre acting, because actors have to be so "on" and project all the way into the back seats), but Baldwin made me a believer. The comic timing of Matt Foyer, who tripled up on the characters Harry, Buck, and Woody, was dead on. The scenic design and paint by Arthur MacBride and Josie DiVincenzo, however, was the evening's true genius, as it transformed the small stage of this Magnolia Blvd. theatre into a storybook with moving pages.

Most of the jokes fell short, and there were times during the play when it was obvious that a line was supposed to be funny, and I found myself thinking, "Oh, right. I suppose I should laugh now" but I just couldn't. You know that uncle you have, the one who tells you knock-knock jokes and laughs like he just shit his pants? The one who says things like, "I just flew in to Cleveland, and boy are my arms tired!"? Yeah, that uncle is the personification of this play. You laugh because you don't want to be rude, but inside, you're groaning and checking your watch. You check your watch even as you know all the actors are working very hard at multiple roles.

I found most of Red Willie to be formulaic and trite, or "nothing to write home about", as "they" say. But even as I write that, I feel a tug in my chest, knowing that it may be because of some fault of my own (eff you some more, Rachel!), rather than because the play was not that good. The guy to the right of me seemed to like it a great deal. He laughed at all the appropriate times, and he was even leaning forward in his chair in anticipation. Maybe I should have asked him to write this review., reviewed by Nicole Espinola

Snidely Whiplash Would Approve

"The Hunt for Red Willie," presented by Theatre Banshee at the Gene Bua Theatre in Burbank, is lighthearted, fluffy — and just a tad belabored.

If you're a fan of the mustache-twirling, damsel-in-distress school of melodrama, then Ken Bourke's naughtily updated period comedy will appeal to you. Still, over the course of a couple of hours, the silliness wears thin and this "Hunt" loses its antic momentum.

The setting is 1829 Donegal, and the dread outlaw, Red Willie, is at large. Fardy (Josh Thoemke), a peasant lad, loves Bessy (Leslie Baldwin), a landowner's daughter — an uneven match complicated by Fardy's secret identity as Red Willie.

The exact nature of Red Willie — actually an enchanted mask that transforms its wearer into a bearded creature whose very glance makes men drop dead of shock — is confusing. Whether Red Willie is actually guilty of any crimes or just a somewhat bizarre plot device remains unclear. Suffice to say that the real villain is Captain LeBlanc (again, Thoemke), a scheming British officer with evil designs on Bessy.

Arthur MacBride's scenic design — a series of painted cloth backdrops that accommodate the many scene changes — is both functional and ingenious. Director Sean Branney keeps the action breezy, with enough laughs to make this production generally worthwhile. The cast also includes Matt Foyer, John Jabaley, McKerrin Kelly and Noah Wagner. The actors play multiple roles — all extreme opposites. (Here, the hero doubles as the villain, the lady as a bawdy peasant girl.) However, across the board, their characterizations lack the extreme differentiation — that element of crucial caricature — that would have better served the farce.

Los Angeles Times, reviewed by F. Kathleen Foley

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