The Kings of the Kilburn High Road

Presented by the Irish Arts Center and Red Kettle Theatre Company in association with Gabriel Byrne, Georganne Heller, and John Hunt at the Irish Arts Center, 553 W. 51 St., NYC, March 17-April 21.

It was a grand day for the Irish (and the rest of us, too) when "The Kings of the Kilburn High Road" opened at the Irish Arts Center on St. Paddy's Day! The Red Kettle Theatre Company brought its production over from Waterford, Ireland, to weave its spell upon American audiences.

Granted that the play covers familiar territory—the Irish pub, the drinks, the drunks, the flood of language. We've heard it all before. It has become the standard scenario for this genre, well depicted by Brian Friel and other contemporary Irish playwrights.

But writer Jimmy Murphy gives the story a new twist, placing his expatriates in London rather than the States or his own homeland. To our knowledge, little has been written about this particular phase of Irish history, and it deserves to be chronicled. Most of the young men who headed across the Irish Sea to seek their fortunes began and ended their lives as lowly day laborers. It is a tale of despair and failure, and Murphy brings it to life vividly.

Murphy assembles four buddies in an Irish club on Kilburn High Road, London, where they await the arrival of a fifth and celebrate a wake (the death of one of their own). Impassioned outbursts and black Irish humor prevail as they play out their pipe dreams over pints of beer. Sudden battles erupt like volcanoes and quickly die away. The years have passed, and the golden dream has eluded them all, except for the one late arrival. He is the group's one success story, and they greet him with a mix of respect and resentment. The men communicate in rugged, obscene language, a four-letter word punctuating every sentence as they trade insults, accusations, and occasional comforting words. But it is soaring poetry all the same.

Under Jim Nolan's direction, the cast is flawless: Brendan Conroy, Eamonn Hunt, Sean Lawlor, Noel O'Donovan, and Frank O'Sullivan each stakes out his own territory, defining his own character.

A toast to them all!