"Mammy died last week and we buried her three days ago.” So begins “Brendan,” and it’s a recurring refrain of telling import. In Theatre Banshee’s admirable West Coast premiere of Ronan Noone’s audience-friendly dramedy about an Irish immigrant in modern-day America, the past is constantly challenging the present.
Literally, since inarticulate would-be citizen Brendan (Patrick Quinlan), whose epistolary culture-shock scenario unfolds in some 30 vignettes, is haunted by his mother (Kathleen M. Darcy), whom only he can see or hear. Mum, who sent Brendan to the States after a near-tragic romantic disappointment, supplies nagging encouragement at the most inopportune times, providing the play with its drollest moments.
Director McKerrin Kelly efficiently stages this hetero Gaelic cousin to Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey” in a spare, stylized manner. Assembling her talented cast like a Greek chorus on either side of designer Arthur MacBride’s set of banked storage boxes, Kelly maintains easy forward propulsion, aided by Bosco Flanagan's resourceful lighting and a proficient ensemble.
Quinlan’s boyish Everyman demeanor and lower-case attack might be more suited to film, yet he rises to Brendan’s histrionic climaxes, and Darcy is an understated stitch. Devereau Chumrau is sweetly spontaneous as Brendan’s principal love interest; Amir Abdullah, Eamon Sheehan and the vivid Catia Ojeda are impressively versatile in multiple roles.
More problematic are the jarring sound levels, particularly the bells that cue each new scene, and the way Noone’s narrative piques our interest and keep us at arm’s length at once. Still, if “Brendan” delays emotional connection until events collide in Act 2, the striking impact of its final visual coup is undeniable, and so is the skill of this affable production.
“Brendan,” The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia, Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 18. $16-$20. (818) 846-5323 or www.theatrebanshee.org. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.