Review: In 'The Butcher Boy,' an anti-coming of age story

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, June 20, 2024

Review: In 'The Butcher Boy,' an anti-coming of age story
Nicholas Barasch with, from left, Teddy Trice, David Baida, Carey Rebecca Brown and Polly McKie in “The Butcher Boy,” in New York on July 21, 2022. The new musical, based on the novel by Patrick McCabe, follows a boy in 1960s Ireland as he recounts a tale of boyhood mischief and alienation. Jeenah Moon/The New York Times.

by Naveen Kumar

NEW YORK, NY.- They creep in from the shadows, snorting and snickering. The singing pigs that skulk and shimmy through “The Butcher Boy,” which opened Monday at the Irish Repertory Theatre, are silly but also half-menacing. Below the neck, they’re dressed like townspeople in 1960s Ireland, where the new musical, written and composed by Asher Muldoon, is set. From the jowls up, however, their snout-nosed masks are eerily impassive.

The swine chorus appears to be a totem of indecency, embodying the dark and unknown depths of the show’s narrator, Francie (Nicholas Barasch), a jaunty lad with flame-colored hair and an implacably sunny disposition. In his upbeat brogue, Francie recounts a tale of boyhood mischief and alienation with a zeal that belies what seems to be the threat of promised violence. If there’s danger lurking beneath his gleaming grin, Francie may be a bit too good at hiding the knife.

Based on the 1992 novel by Patrick McCabe, “The Butcher Boy” presents a myopic view of a troubled upbringing — call it an anti-coming of age tale. Francie claims that his adolescence was idyllic, though scenes in the musical plainly prove otherwise. He and his best friend (Christian Strange) fish and carouse and steal comic books from a nerdy classmate (Daniel Marconi), whose mother (Michele Ragusa) fatefully derides Francie and his parents on the basis of social class, calling them pigs.

“It was a sweet and simple time,” Francie sings as his father (Scott Stangland) belts him across the butt. “We were happy,” he says before walking in on his mother (Andrea Lynn Green) about to hang herself from a fuse wire. The motormouthed Francie turns to the audience with asides and misdirections that dissemble as much as they reveal.

In the novel, McCabe’s prose is propulsive and unpredictable, bordering on stream of consciousness and bubbling with proto-punk sensibility, not unlike Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting,” published in Scotland a year later.

But putting a narrator as unreliable as Francie at the helm of a stage musical is tricky business. Should audience members believe what they hear or what they see? That depends on which is more convincing, and the results here are tough to decipher. Is Francie fooling only himself, or is he trying to fool everyone else? The answer often seems to be both, and it’s a difficult deception for a performer to pull off, particularly while recounting and participating in 2 1/2 hours’ worth of action.

“The Butcher Boy” might have been finessed into a sharper, more forceful black comedy if the score from Muldoon, who is not yet a senior in college, had developed a more distinctive point of view. Its dutiful tour through Broadway-style pop, vaudeville and Irish influences is largely referential.

The production, directed by Ciaran O’Reilly, uses graphic shorthand to suggest the tension between Francie’s insular mind and the outside world. The wood-slatted walls of the set by Charlie Corcoran resemble a treehouse, while an oversize rendering of a turn-dial TV serves as a backdrop for Dan Scully’s projections. The screen looms large over the compact stage, nodding briefly to the turmoil of the 1960s and to Francie’s taste for “The Twilight Zone,” but the significance of mass media to Francie’s tortured descent is either overstated or underplayed.

“The Butcher Boy” centers Francie’s perspective to a fault, so that the convictions of other characters are mediated through his own. It’s a powerful concept but requires a delicate physics that staging a story in three dimensions tends to defy. When characters who are without emotional agency express themselves in song, whose heartstrings can they claim to be pulling? Francie seems determined to prove that he himself has none.

There are promising moments of affecting sentiment at the conclusion of Muldoon’s score, in ballads that seem to offer unlikely resolution, before Francie yanks it away with a still indeterminate rage. But by the time Francie’s own mask finally falls, the revelation feels oddly bloodless.

‘The Butcher Boy’

Through Sept. 11 at the Irish Repertory Theatre, Manhattan; Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

August 3, 2022

Karla Mayrl, front and center, and ready for the international stage

Hirshhorn opens exhibition showcasing a century of art by nearly 50 pathbreaking women and nonbinary artists

Rijksmuseum drawings reveal richness of seventeenth-century Dutch life

KÖNIG SEOUL opens the first solo exhibition of Michael Sailstorfer in Seoul

Laisun Keane presents a fiber and textile art group exhibition

ROSEGALLERY presents a group exhibition dedicated to the imagery of trees and nature

Ballroom Marfa names Daisy Nam as Executive Director and Curator

Taymour Grahne Projects opens an online solo exhibition by London-based artist Xinan Yang

Eva Presenhuber's second exhibition with Austin Eddy opens in Kastro

LGDR welcomes Zhang Zipiao

Rebounding from a revolt, victory gardens is again mired in turmoil

James Welling's eleventh solo exhibition with Regen Projects opens in Los Angeles

Unit London presents Lindsey Mclean

Two ambitious new artist commissions responding to Compton Verney's Naples Collection

Mercer Union presents group exhibition titled "Evidence"

EXPO CHICAGO announces 2023 program curators

Hammer Museum presents Andrea Bowers

Tenant of Culture realises an ambitious new site-specific installation for Camden Art Centre

Pollock-Krasner Foundation awards nearly $2.7 million to 106 artists and nonprofit orgs

Review: In 'The Butcher Boy,' an anti-coming of age story

'Paradise Square' faces new complaints over payments

BLINK, illuminated by Artswave, announces first wave of artists

The classical music event of the summer is in Salzburg's shadow

Making Your Craft Business Look More Professional

How to Start a Profitable Vape Business

Are you looking for a dress to wear this summer?

List of free slots to play for fun with no download or registration

Design Tips for Casino Logo and Clip Arts

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful