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Theater review: 'The Kings of the Kilburn High Road' at Theatre Banshee

January 28, 2010 |  9:30 pm

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.

– David C. Nichols

"The Kings of the Kilburn High Road," The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Feb. 28. $18. (818) 846-5323 or www.theatrebanshee.org. Running time:  1 hour, 45 minutes.

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