The most curious people drift through Buffalo, and their presence rarely receives the attention it deserves.
And some of the most intriguing figures in this endless parade of visiting artists and thinkers come under the auspices of the Irish Classical Theatre Company.
The ambitious Dubliners who launched the storied Main Street company more than 20 years ago – once theatrical drifters themselves – have built a brand that thrives on the infusion of outside energy. And lately, much to our benefit, they’ve been sending out more invitations to their home country.
The latest to accept is Peter Sheridan, the actor, director, playwright and memoirist whose name is synonymous with the theater in his native Dublin. He’s in town chiefly to direct a production of “Being Behan,” a play by his brother, accomplished film director Jim Sheridan, about the singular Irish writer and personality Brendan Behan. That show opens March 21.
But while he’s here, Sheridan – an incurable actor who clearly belongs on stage – couldn’t resist the opportunity to tread the boards. On Sunday night in the Andrews Theatre, he performed his lovely and thoroughly engaging one-man show “Break a Leg,” which he’ll repeat at 7 p.m. Sunday.
The piece, adapted from Sheridan’s memoir of the same name, is a master class in storytelling. Rarely does your attention even threaten to waver from the characters he impersonates, the songs he sings or the stories he tells about a life spent in love with the theater.
The conceit of the show is beautiful in its simplicity. Sheridan begins by conducting a conversation with his young grandson, a boy with an evidently unlimited supply of questions, for which Sheridan has an equally bottomless trove of answers.
During the two-act show, which goes by in a flash, each audience member becomes that imaginary kid sitting on a bench, eager for more stories, songs, strange fractured recollections and comic impersonations of neighborhood characters.
We learn about the death of his brother from a brain tumor – an event that inspired his father to launch a small community theater company. We learn about the harrowing process of performing his first role, in “Juno and the Paycock,” and about the other dream roles he clinched at an age far too young to play them. We’re treated to a hilarious retelling of his teenage romantic escapades, which gives way to a touching look at his marriage and family life.
“Break a Leg” flows naturally from one phase of Sheridan’s fascinating life to the next, never pausing for too long, save perhaps for an anecdote about the grassroots Dublin theater company he launched. But even in that story, in which Sheridan describes the three-play cycle about Dublin in the 20th century his company produced, we’re fastened to our seats and ready for whatever tale might come next.
The overall impression you get from “Break a Leg,” aside from Sheridan’s instant affability, stage presence and wit, is of a man in love with his chosen art and with his native city. And that simple thing is a rare joy to behold.
3 and 1/2 stars
What: “Break a Leg”
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St.
Tickets: $15 to $20
Info: 853-4282 or www.irishclassicaltheatre.com