Barasch (center). (Carol Rosegg)
Francie Brady is an energetic, but ballistic teenager
with a seemingly cheeky disposition. But behind the red hair and sparkling eyes
lurks a troubled boy who claims: “They were all after me on account of what I
done on Mrs. Nugent.”
The Butcher Boy,
a musical now at the Irish Rep, is set in rural Ireland in the 1960s. Based on
the acclaimed 1992 novel by Patrick McCabe, which loosely references a 1904
crime that took place in McCabe’s hometown of Clones, County Monaghan, Butcher
Boy is the
first original musical the company has developed in eight years.
Here, the story is rendered as a
hallucinatory production. There are dark themes afoot: domestic abuse,
childhood trauma and psychosis, and the repercussions of gossip.
Francie (an excellent Nicholas Barasch) lives
in a violent household with an alcoholic father (Scott Stangland) and a
miserable mother (Andrea Lynn Green). To escape his troubles, he retreats into
the world of sci-fi TV and comics with his best friend Joe (Christian Strange).
Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” plays on the large TV screen that’s part of
Charlie Corcoran’s set.
But his life is forever changed when snooty
Mrs. Nugent ((Michele Ragusa) and her son, Phillip (Daniel Marconi), move into
town. Alarmed by Francie’s bullying, she calls the Brady family pigs — and that
smear pushes the embryonic sociopath Francie over the edge, unleashing his
Four actors who wear pig masks illustrate his
descent into violence. They bring his hallucinatory visions to life. Teddy Trice, Carey
Rebecca Brown, Polly McKie and David Baida play the snorting, unnerving pigs.
Kat C. Zhou ups the effects with haunting red lighting at the height of
It’s a challenge to transform dark subject
matter into a musical, but Asher Muldoon, 23, responsible for the book, music
and lyrics, gives it a solid shot. And he often succeeds at creating an
unnerving, provocative show, aided by a strong cast and Ciaran O’Reilly’s
However, an especially difficult element in The
Butcher Boy is not sustaining a consistent tone — which veers between
realism and violent fantasy. And while some of the ballads move the story line,
other songs do not. What begins innocently eventually dives into darker
terrain. Francie’s demons are both his nightmares and a horrifying stab at
Barasch, Michele Ragusa and Daniel Marconi (Carol Rosegg)
part, The Butcher Boy is also a sad reminder of a society unable to address
either mental illness or the social issues that create ongoing misery. As
Francie becomes more alienated and estranged from family and friends, his
madness turns dangerous. And aside from his kinship with Joe, there is little joy
in his life.
looks up to his Uncle
Alo (Joe Cassidy), whose relationship with his ex-girlfriend Mary (Kerry Conte)
has a tender sadness all its own. Happiness, it appears, eludes all the Bradys.
the abundance of misery may explain why Muldoon eliminated some story points in
the book, such as the sexual abuse Francie endures from a priest. Francie has so
many horrible experiences, his gruesome actions can sometimes seem inevitable.
At some point, he’s going to snap. And when he gets a job with a butcher, who
teaches him how to kill young piglets, the sense of foreshadowing is complete.
tackles serious subjects — and the Irish Rep is to be lauded for its novel
approach to McCabe’s book. It’s a haunting production. Plus, it will be
interesting to see Muldoon’s future efforts. He’s off to an impressive start.
The Butcher Boy,
The Irish Rep, 132 West 22 St.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, including