Irish playwright John Keyes Byrne wrote under the nom de plume Hugh Leonard, but to family, friends and a select group of foes answered to plain old “Jack.”
He died in 2009 at age 82 and left an astounding legacy: four dozen plays, screenplays, teleplays, lauded adaptations of the classics and hundreds of unpredictable but mostly acerbic, gleefully malicious newspaper columns attacking literati or others deemed worthy of his scorn.
Ironically, America knows Hugh Leonard as a kinder, gentler writer of two stage works in particular, the award-winning memory play, “Da,” and its thoughtful, rueful sequel of sorts, “A Life.” “Da” has been produced twice by Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company with great success, most recently a year ago. “A Life,” infrequently performed but thankfully remembered by the ICTC for its season finale, just opened at the company’s Andrews Theatre home, there to stay until the end of June.
A minor character from “Da,” Desmond Drumm, returns and is central in “A Life.”
A 40-year civil servant, Drumm is a terminal crank, a dedicated, demanding workaholic who does not suffer fools and has just been promoted to “Keeper of Records” for the Irish coastal town of Dalkey. Desmond sometimes serves as a docent for walking tours of Dalkey and spices his talk with sarcasm and biting tidbits about the locals. “Dalkey has about 600 persons per public house,” he informs, then regularly launches into barbs pointed at Dublin suburbanites. Drumm, to put it mildly, is not a people person.
Then, a life-changer. Desmond has had “tummy trouble” and tests prove the worst: six months to live, at best. Curmudgeon Drumm begins to take stock of his life, put things in order. “I need to know what I amount to,” he says. “Debit or credit. That much I’m owed.” He tells one person about his future: long-ago love Mary. Dolly, Drumm’s wife, is kept in the dark. Reverie soon takes over this bittersweet “A Life.”
The story alternates a succession of scenes between young, 20-something Drumm – even then stodgy, joyless and steel-willed – and his small circle of friends with the same group four decades later. We learn where grudges began and festered, when slights occurred and words hurt, about Drumm’s deeds of commission or omission, how the four lives flourished or floundered. Secrets are disclosed and blame is in ample supply.
At story’s end, Desmond Drumm has learned some life lessons. Better late ...
In Hugh Leonard’s writing and Fortunato Pezzimenti’s direction, sentiment never appears and never once are we called upon to judge. Fine traits. Pezzimenti has assembled another flawless ensemble. These things add up to a season-ending gem.
Vincent O’Neill is a remarkable Drumm, unlikable but certainly not evil, cantankerous even in his attempts to salvage “a life” – his. A perfect portrayal. O’Neill is joined by the stellar Josephine Hogan, Gerry Maher and Colleen Gaughan. The younger versions of “Dezzie,” Dorothy, Mibs and Lars are played by Joe Liolos, Jamie Nablo-Lama, Genevieve Lerner and expatriate Patrick G. McGee. Liolos and Lerner are exceptional here.
ICTC’s technical wizards have brought their A-game. Ann Emo’s costumes shine.