Northern Ireland’s pre-eminent theatre company, Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, presents the U.S. premiere of a new play by Janet Behan, “Brendan at the Chelsea,” about the controversial playwright Brendan Behan, in the turbulent last weeks of his short life, when he lived in New York at the Chelsea Hotel. Portraying Behan is the noted actor Adrian Dunbar, who also directs the five-character drama. This is Dunbar’s professional NY stage debut, and it is also the Lyric Theatre’s debut production in New York.
“Brendan at the Chelsea” plays a limited five-week engagement from Wednesday September 4 through Sunday October 6, at the Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, on Theatre Row. The show’s Off-Broadway opening is set for Sunday September 8 at 3pm.
The Off-Broadway run launches a multi-city tour across Ireland, which will include Dublin, a return to Belfast, and will culminate in Derry in November. This year Derry celebrates becoming the inaugural UK City of Culture, a quadrennial designation.
“We wanted to start this important tour for the Lyric in New York where, in a true sense, this story all begins,” says Richard Croxford, the Lyric’s artistic director. “New York is the place where it could be said the very unhappy Behan was the happiest.”
Featured in the cast with Dunbar are Pauline Hutton, Richard Orr, Samantha Pearl, and Chris Robinson, who vividly depict some of the characters who inhabited the Chelsea in its early 60’s heyday as a breeding ground for bohemian creativity. Was this right place for the author of the immensely successful “The Hostage” to forge ahead with his still promising career? Would the Chelsea and an indulgent New York nurture this angry rebel, helping him come to terms with his demons about his drinking and his sex addictions (and possible bi-sexuality)? Maybe so, but a phone call from Dublin, will force him to return home, where he will be dead at 41 in a matter of weeks.
When he embodied the notoriously dissolute Behan (who once quipped that he was “a drinker with a writing problem”) in the Lyric’s Irish premiere of the play in May of 2011, Dunbar was called, “riveting” by The Stage. British Theatre Magazine said his “metamorphosis into Behan is uncanny,” and the Belfast Telegraph stated, “Dunbar gives a compelling performance, capturing the self-pity and spite which infected Brendan during his last months.” A well-known presence on British television (Cracker, Tough Love, The Quartermass Experiment), Dunbar has appeared in such films as “My Left Foot,” “The Crying Game,” and “The General,” and he is often cast in major roles across the UK at such theatres at The Abbey, the Royal Court and the RSC.
Janet Behan, Brendan’s niece, developed the work at the Hammersmith Studios in London, where it was originally staged in 2008, also with Dunbar in the title role, and also to wide acclaim.
Behan’s plays include “The Quare Fellow” and his breakthrough, “The Hostage” (1958), which was an English-language adaptation of his “An Giall” (written in Irish). His autobiographical novel, “Borstal Boy,” about his early years as frequently imprisoned IRA activist, was a worldwide bestseller.
Adrian Dunbar is Brendan Behan in “Brendan at the Chelsea.” The show’s five-week engagement at the Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, runs from Wednesday September 4 through Sunday October 6. Performances are Tues 7pm; Wed to Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun at 3pm. For tickets, which are $55.75, call Telecharge at 212/239-6200, or visit www.BrendanChelsea.com.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore