Rather than having you wade through an entire review, we’ll say it
now. “The Hostage,” presented by the Alliance Repertory Company in
Burbank, is easily one of the best plays of the year.
The award show producers should go to the engravers now, and get
those plexiglass statuettes ready, because as the late Chick Hearn of
the Lakers used to say, “the Jell-O’s jiggling and the refrigerator
door is closed!”
Director Stephanie Shroyer has done a magnificent job leading the
huge ensemble cast through a tension-filled tale of a 24-hour period
in a small Irish town.
The late Brendan Behan lived a short, dramatic, strife-ridden
existence, and the plays he wrote were verbal transfusions of the
agonies and the passions that drove him to death by inebriation. “The
Hostage” is one of those passions.
Set against the war-torn backdrop of Ireland in the early 1960s,
the core of the story is about a young IRA soldier who is going to be
executed by the British. To counter, the IRA captures a young British
soldier and announces that they will shoot him the minute the IRA
youth is killed. Lacking resources, the IRA decides to hide their
hostage where the British will least suspect -- in a brothel.
What makes this story compelling is the assortment of characters
that populate the brothel. The cast members breathe a unique quality
into the spirit of each character, making this production an
The women are lusty, the men crude, the emotions are on edge and
the liquor flows freely and soon you forget it’s a performance and
believe you’re another one of the “guests” laughing nervously,
drinking and participating in the apprehension and anxiety.
The set is the faded lobby of the house, complete with bar and
piano, a few stools and tables and a second floor with rooms where
the regulars entertain their “guests.” Everyone is broke, nobody pays
the bill, but everyone always has the time and means for another
In a wonderful performance, Morlan Higgins as Pat, the co-owner,
makes a halfhearted effort to keep the place afloat with his wife,
Meg (Sarah Zinsser), who tackles the part with unrivaled zest. Pat
has bitter memories of war, but tries to reconcile his misery with
the current events.
When an IRA officer (Armin Shimerman), brings the hostage, Leslie
(Geoffrey Lind), to the establishment, his focus is to keep control
and stick to the rules. The residents have other ideas, and the
hostage is treated to experiences seldom enjoyed by prisoners,
including a brief romance with lovely Teresa (Jesse Wiseman), an
innocent girl who runs errands.
As the hour approaches for the IRA soldier to die, tempers flare,
tensions escalate, nerves explode and no one expects the twist that
occurs. But if one thing comes from this story, it’s a soulful truth
that regardless of how righteous one feels about a conflict, fate
always steps in with its irreversible whims, and that’s something no
one can control.