With an engaging, almost circus-like atmosphere, Burbank's Theatre Banshee is presenting “The Hostage.” There's laughter, tears, joy and fear, all threaded together by a seemingly endless collection of wonderfully performed Gaelic tunes.

It's a safe bet that this piece, written by Brendan Behan in the late 1950s, offers something for everyone.

To that end, director McKerrin Kelly deserves the greatest portion of the praise for exposing this production's heart and soul.

Even during the most chaotic moments, of which there are many in the play, Kelly's strong directorial guidance is evident.

Her blocking for the show on designer Arthur MacBride's suitably seedy set is marvelous, given the restrictive size of this venue.

But she could never have pulled off the remarkable results evident on the Banshee stage were it not for the nearly flawless cast whose characters inhabit the Dublin brothel we see before us.

Given the incredible way in which this cast of 14 interacts onstage, to separate actors between principal and supporting roles seems grossly unfair. This is an ensemble in every sense of the word.

John McKenna and Jenn Pennington, as the brothel's loving yet sometimes bickering proprietors, maintain the show's momentum.

McKenna in particular charmingly addresses the audience on numerous occasions. In less skilled hands, it's a theatrical convention that might instead come off as false or stilted.

The establishment's occupant list includes a collection of ragtag, gender-crossing prostitutes played with irreverent glee by Dan Conroy, Andra Carlson and Casey Kramer. Their equally goofy customers include Vash Boddie and Marco Tazioli.

John Schumacher gives a delightful turn as a nebbish boarder whose search for love leads him to the arms of a local social worker played with scene-stealing abandon by Kacey Camp.

Rounding out this collection of unusual personages is Barry Lynch as a kilt-wearing, bagpipe-honking revolutionary who is johnny-on-the-spot barking orders to one and all.

Falling perhaps more on the “normal” side of the story are Mark Colson and Levi Petree who, as two members of the Irish Republican Army, are assigned to guard the play's title character.

And here's where the play takes a decidedly serious turn. Patrick Joseph Rieger is a British private abducted and held prisoner in the midst of this madness.

Rieger, along with Amanda Deibert, who plays an Irish lass working as the brothel's housekeeper, provide the dramatic juxtaposition to the otherwise farcical goings-on.

Their beautifully understated scene work, courtesy of director Kelly, affords the audience time to digest the story and builds to the production's bittersweet conclusion.

The lessons learned from this must-see performance concerning the ravages of bigotry lend credence to the Irish saying, “A man's fame lasts longer than his life.”

?DINK O'NEAL is an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn.

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