Erin Go Braghless Reviews

Post your reviews as comments on this post. This a print review and should be 600 words.

13 Comments on “Erin Go Braghless Reviews

  1. Dan Tomasik
    ITJA Critics
    1/30/13
    Erin Go Bragh-less
    Freud once said that the Irish are the only people who are immune to psychoanalysis. A good long look at the family within Erin Go Bragh-less is enough to convince anyone of that statement. This family could frighten the Mansons. Fair warning, if you’re easily offended, read no further.
    Before the play even begins, it will become perfectly apparent to you that the Irish play a heavy role in things to come. The stage is decorated in green and shamrocks and a central bar with wooden stools and tables around it. It becomes even clearer once the characters open their mouths.
    Imagine an irish catholic family in Massachusetts; with beer, broads, brawls, and the kind of colorful language reserved for American poor white trash. Characters spend entire chunks of their lives on bar stools, rickety kitchen tables, and perpetually smoking cigarettes. We’re treated to coke addicts, drinking binges, violent relationships, stabbings, threats, screaming family members, flashing, drunken ramblings, teen pregnancies, catholic pregnancies, hopeful pregnancies, hoax pregnancies; every kind of pregnancy you could imagine. Happy St. Paddy’s Day!
    The play requires a kind of audience member who can follow along with some pretty shocking happenings without being distracted. It’s rude and crude, but you will catch yourself laughing at some of what spews out of people’s mouths. It’s also surprisingly sophisticated in the way it’s staged. Four main set locations are all on the stage at once, multiple conversations take place within scenes, and alternate line by line. It definitely benefits to see the play more than once to really keep track and follow what goes on. It can be difficult to follow everything that happens.
    The nine characters are all messed up in one way or another (or in many ways all at once). There are no charity workers here. One can’t help but wonder if being irish just naturally makes life a hopeless mess; none of them seem to particularly register the appalling living conditions they inhabit. Yet each actor and actress seems to bring to life their thoroughly appalling character. Most of them spend the entire play on-stage, even if they are in the shadows smoking cigarettes while others are talking elsewhere. It never feels like you’re waiting for something to happen, as there is nary a moment of awkward silence. There’s nary a moment of appropriate content for anyone under age 18 as well, but at least it keeps things moving at a consistent pace.
    The irish accents vary from selective to broad. I couldn’t help but notice it specifically when actors said certain words in many cases, while others carried it convincingly throughout the whole play. Oddly appropriate, the most foul-mouthed characters usually kept it up the most. I still have no idea what the phrase “erin go bragh-less” means, but I chalk that up to my heritage (or lack thereof).

    • Dan- I love this opening. As we discussed in the workshop, I do think there is a distinction between an Irish play and a play about South Boston Irish-Americans, and likewise the dialect for both. (I would even argue that if some of us heard Irish, and some heard Boston- I myself heard mostly Boston but had my share of problems with what I call “stage Boston”- that this may speak to a greater problem.)
      There are a lot of minor word choices here that I think Dan more or less covered in going over this piece this morning. I would also agree that the piece starts out strong and loses some steam at the end. It particularly needs a final sentence that wraps the piece up and leaves the reader with something more to think about in terms of the play overall. -Scott

  2. “Erin Go Bragh-less”: a messy, but genuine peek at relationships
    By James Barcomb

    As the curtain opens on John Shea’s “Erin Go Bragh-less,” performed at Cape Cod Community College by Boston University for the 2013 American College Theater Festival, the audience hears the opening beats of a fun rock tune that seems to be telling them, “Sit back, let loose, it’s St. Patty’s Day!” These are soon replaced, however, by harsh and cold instrumentals that occupy the rest of the song. Such is the nature of the play: brutal reality interspersed with the occasional comic touch. It seeks to provide insight into the lives of several people and their rocky relationships, and although it’s somewhat overwhelming at times, the play largely succeeds, thanks to some snappy writing and a terrific ensemble.
    Set in Shea’s native Somerville, Massachusetts over the course of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 2004, “Erin” quickly introduces us to its main players: bartender Bill and his friend Barry, Barry’s wife Kelly and her best friend Lisa, Linda and her two daughters, Maura and Sandra, Maura’s husband, Steve, and Sandra’s boyfriend, Ryan, each and every one with a thick Boston accent. If that list of characters seems difficult to keep track of, it’s a correct representation of the way we first meet them. Within the first five minutes, characters enter and exit, trading banter with each other; often, these conversations overlap one another, an intriguing technique that soon grows tiring and only adds to the confusion. Though we eventually get to know these people, the brisk 90-minute running time prevents a few figures from getting the necessary development they deserve, namely Steve and Maura, whose abusive relationship (halfway through, Steve lands in jail for stabbing Maura in the arm) feels like a last-minute addition to the script.
    Thankfully, much of the material works. The play takes us through the ordeals of domestic abuse, miscarriage, alcoholism, drug problems, and theft, and offers no easy answers. Despite their attempts otherwise, most of the characters end up right back where they started, figuratively and literally. The one that stands out the most, Bill, also happens to be the one we most identify with. He tries to shine light in the dark tunnel that surrounds him, breaking the escalating tension with cheerful quips (“Relax, it’s St. Patrick’s Day!”). At the same time, he too recognizes the changes everyone and everything is going through; Bill is particularly saddened by the fact that his heritage seems to be slowly disappearing from the town and has instead been replaced with “sushi bars.”
    That being said, the strength of Bill must also be credited to the strength of actor Sam Tilles. Though he has less material than most of his co-stars, Tilles nails every one of his comic moments and proves he’s equally effective at drama, especially when his character decides to look out for himself. The ensemble as a whole is remarkable; the way in which they play off each other makes it seem like they’ve been together for years. Nearly every conversation, whether lighthearted (Bill and Barry sit at the bar, discussing the nature of stereotypes in film) or seemingly life-changing (the aforementioned confrontation in which Bill decides to drop Barry out of his life) feels genuine.
    Credit must also be given to Martin Gjoni’s scenic design, which places us right in the middle of Somerville. A rundown bar with four-leaf clovers hastily pasted onto the side is surrounded by chairs and tables that act as both pieces of the bar and the homes of other characters. For a section in the second half of the show, stools are placed on top of the bar to create the jail cell Steve is trapped in, a simple, but extremely creative move.
    “Erin Go Bragh-less” is not a seamless play and could do with a bit of re-writing, particularly in the areas of pace and some of the character development. However, what we walk away with are the particularly strong elements: an energetic cast, engaging writing, and choices (like the opening music) that paint a stirring picture of a set of people struggling with the ones they think they love and care for.

    • A lot of my comments echo things Dan has already said pretty directly in this morning’s session, and this is no exception. There is definitely a sense of “damning with faint praise” at places here, almost as if credit for good work is reluctantly given in that it does not cause the play any harm. You essentially say that an evening seeing this play makes for a bumpy ride, and I buy that. Your examples do a great job of illustrating that point. But still, I do feel as if you yourself might be struggling to decide whether “much of the material works,” as you say at one point, or that this is “not a seamless play.”
      That said, you have a real gift for making one feel what it might be like to experience a show, the good and the bad. Since you open with the music with the beginning of the play, I wonder if there’s room for you to comment on the music and events at the end?
      -Scott

  3. The Power of Control–First Draft
    By Samantha Norton

    It all boils down to being in control—whether you are the one in charge, or the one being controlled—possessing a sense of power has the ability to dictate one’s decisions. “Erin Go Bragh-less,” which was written by playwright John Shea, was performed at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival at the Cape Cod Community College. This original play takes place in Somerville, Massachusetts, and depicts the dysfunctional lives of nine friends and how their lives encompass every aspect of drama. Main characters Barry, Kelly, Steve, and Maura all show that being in control doesn’t come without a little retaliation.
    From infidelity, to drug use, alcohol abuse, and even arguments that never have a resolution, Barry and his wife, Kelly, have a relationship that is dysfunctional to the core. Kelly hates to love him, and loves to hate him. But while Barry tries to control her with every fiber—mentally, emotionally, and physically—he fails to realize that his dominance is the problem. Despite Barry’s self-centered and crude actions, Kelly always finds a way to swallow her dignity and a reason to go back.
    Kelly, played by Caroline Rose Markham, is crafted to represent white trash—living in the projects and off of welfare, pregnant at the age of 20 with her first child, and stuck with a husband who is married to a rundown Irish bar rather than his own family. Markham’s character craves for your sympathy, but as an audience member you don’t feel sorry for her because rather than trying to escape dysfunction, she thrives in it, and Barry knows that.
    Barry, played by Alexander J Morgan, is constructed to perfection. From the character’s vulgarity and his hypocritical tendencies, Morgan is able to deliver a performance that not only makes you laugh at his character’s ignorant comments, but also makes you detest his mindset.
    Similar to Barry and Kelly’s relationship, their friends Steve and his girlfriend Maura have infinite reasons to part ways, but the addiction of living in constant dysfunction prevails. But unlike Kelly, Maura has strength and the proper mindset that allows her to force herself to walk away. But while Maura, played by Sarah Lavere, is able to keep the distance between her and Steve for a short period of time, her emotions eventually takeover.
    A sense of being in control and dysfunction were the main focus of this original play. The design elements did not shift your focal point, or overshadow the performance of the nine actors; rather the design enhanced the understanding of all the characters’ background. Each character lived in the projects and had a dream of amounting to something more—but it was their inability to leave dysfunction in the past that ultimately made them stuck in their own discontent.
    But while it seemed as though these characters would be able to takeover the control of their actions and emotions and leave the dysfunction behind, the play started the same way it ended—with infidelity, drug use, alcohol abuse, and arguments that never demanded a resolution.

    • I love the fact that you immediately latched onto theme.For extended pieces of writing about theater such as this assignment, we have a wonderful opportunity to really examine what a play is about, and I think this is especially important when dealing with a new play. I do think you might want to come back to this idea that the play is about control later on as well.
      You’ve hit upon some of the things I love to hammer home to students in classes like play analysis and dramaturgy, not only with regard to theme, but also the question of which characters change and grow in some way as a result of the events that occur within the play. Although it isn’t always the case, a lack of growth and development can often be interpreted as a flaw in a script.
      I think you’ve hit upon something else here, too- that the play seems to be about unchanging addiction, not only to drugs and alcohol but to people, actions and even places. I think it’s a fascinating observation.
      Dan mentioned that this piece might read as a little dry and academic, and I see his point, however it may be that all you need to do is rearrange some of what’s here- there are some very arresting and emotional ideas throughout. I think the idea did come up of moving a strong sentence and making it your opening. Upon reading this again, I actually see several sentences with which you could do that.

  4. Writing What he Knew Lead to Success
    Erin Go Bragh-less
    Critique by Maria Dominguez

    An anonymous person, once wisely told aspiring writers “Write What you Know.” This is exactly what Playwright John Shea has done. He got his inspiration from where he was raised, Somerville, Ma. This realism showed through in his script for Erin Go Bragh-less. Shea once told Doug Holder in an interview that all of his plays are set in the “Ville”. Shea grew up in Magoun square in Somerville. In the 70’s it was a neighborhood filled with working class families along with “drugs, crimes, and dead ends.” Shea dropped out of high school in order to work. This is the Somerville in which Erin Go Bragh-less is set in a slightly more recent year, 2004.
    Erin Go Bragh-less was created at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and was featured as a production of the Boston University new play initiative. It was brought to the Kentucky Center American Theatre Festival and featured on the second night of Region 1’s 45th festival. The title for Erin Go Bragh-less is a play on words for the anglicization of an Irish phrase, Éirinn go Brách, which translates to Ireland Forever. The show was described as depicting a tight knit Irish-American family as they inflicted wounds upon one another, over St Patrick’s Day weekend.
    The KCATF production utilized one set for the duration of the show. I was quite impressed with the detail of the set, and the fact that they were able to transport it from their home school to Cape Cod Community College. While the set was able to successfully divvy up the space on stage with spotlights, action that occurred in the aisles was less noticeable. Consistently throughout the entire play there were multiple events happening at the same time and because the aisles were not as well lit as the stage, it was easy to miss. Had it not been for the person sitting next to me I certainly would have missed an important scene.
    In addition to the isle issue, towards the beginning it was difficult to tell if the two groups of characters on stage were talking to each other or if it was two separate conversations at different places, as both were talking about similar subject matter. As the production went on however it became easier to tell when characters were together and when there were two (or three!) conversations happening at once.
    There was no intermission, which seemed like a bit of a stretch, however the play was really only 90 minutes. What made the play seem longer were the serious and dense moments in which the characters were arguing and fighting among one another. This show covers many serious topics such as relationship abuse, alcoholism, drugs, poverty, jail and teenage pregnancy.
    The actors of this production I found to be very convincing and able to relate to the age of the characters they were playing. The majority of the characters were between 19 and 30 years old. I felt the most difficult character to play age wise was Linda, played by Caroline Cleary, whom was the mother to both Sandra and Maura. Aside from the St. Patrick’s Day touches the costumes designed by Rebecca Saenz, were typical clothing that you would see people of middle/lower class to wear.
    I would definitely attribute the success of this production to the relevancy of it. Plenty of people can relate to the issues that are brought up. By writing about what he knew John Shea created a compelling play with the ability to capture an audience and show them what life is like in Somerville, Massachusetts.

    • I love all of the research and background information you were able to supply here, and hope it becomes a trademark of your work whenever possible! It brings so much to a piece for it to be an informed review. Not only does it provide the reader with interesting and useful information, it establishes you as an even more authoritative voice in writing it. Theater practitioners also love it when a reviewer has things to say about the piece that reflect research, which means your thoughts do not always fall on deaf ears.
      I do see spots where the word choice could be better, and places that need minor editing. I also think that although we talked about one instance where you use “I” in your reporting, it crops up quite a bit more towards the end.
      As a side note, I think your comments both here and in the workshop show a true empathy for the artist. It’s great that even in places where you feel things didn’t work out you offer tact, not to mention in some cases the notion that further information about a production’s circumstances often explains what
      might appear us at first as poor choices or faulty execution.

  5. Booze and Blow : The Twisted Tale of Erin Go Bragh-less
    by Mark Prokes
    First Draft
    A gaggle of drunks and drug addicts gathered in a South Boston bar for one fateful St. Patrick’s Day evening. The events that emerge from this bubbling cauldron of rage and insecurities are what unfold in Erin Go Bragh-less, a play from the BU New Play Initiative. The play explores the inter-connected relationships between the members of several downtrodden Irish-American families that come to a dangerous peak during the infamous holiday. What results will test the resolve of the characters and the stomachs of the audience. It is a brutal piece that, while not particularly great or all that pleasant to watch, should be able to affect anyone watching it in some way.
    One thing should be abundantly clear to anyone in the audience; Erin is NOT a pretty show. The characters are base, vulgar and generally nasty people that would sooner die then apologize to anyone earnestly. A bevy of racial slurs, which shall not be named here, are excreted from the mouth of one of the male leads within the first few minutes, quickly letting everyone know just exactly what they can expect from the rest of the show. Throughout the show, the characters constantly get in their own ways, being led by their violent emotions into nigh sociopathic escapades. The characters, while convincingly portrayed by their actors, can come off as somewhat flat, as they rarely show emotions other than rage unless they are scared of losing something. The exceptions to this include the Mother, who seems to be genuinely concerned for her daughter’s well-being even though she is unsure of how to express it, and the pair of Bill the bartender and Lisa the insecure friend, who are the closest to being relatable out of the entire cast. The two of them are aware of the destructive influences their friends have on them and seek each other out as a means of solace, but end up getting pulled back into the maelstrom regardless. The play is cyclical in nature, with many of the characters finding themselves in much the same situation at the end as they were in at the beginning. The ending itself is somewhat ambiguous, leading much room for creative interpretation on the part of the viewer.
    The production is both helped and hindered by many of the technical aspects, as well as by the direction. The static set is used to represent multiple locations simultaneously, being realistic enough for the grimness of the show but also requiring the audience to use their imaginations to fill in some of the scenes, such as when the stools of the bar were overturned to represent a jail cell. It is a compromise that most likely arose due to the limits of the budget and space, and it does its job quite well. Many scenes have multiple dialogues (or monologues) running parallel to but separate from each other, contrasting the views held in each of the conversations and allowing them to build of each other quite nicely. This method does get unwieldy when there are more than two of these dialogues going on, and the characters have a nasty habit of upstaging themselves as well, especially when the aisles are utilized in the blocking. Acting wise all of the characters were portrayed wonderfully with spot on accents to boot. However, many times the actors trod on each other’s lines, causing some dialogue to be lost. Compounded by the fact that many times there was no pause for laughter made the show a good bit harder to understand.
    In the end, one’s enjoyment of a show Like Erin is directly linked to whether or not you let it’s bitterness and anger get to you. There are humorous moments interspersed throughout, and it is quite thematically interesting, but the sheer scorn of the show can make it very off-putting. The result is a thought-provoking but flawed show that may have needed a bit more time on the drawing board before being presented.

    • Mark, this is a strong review, it’s very well thought out and written. I think the grammatical glitches here and there and the places where there might have been a better word choice are things Dan has pointed out, and I agree with him on all of those. It seems you have echoed the sentiment of many people in suggesting the play needs, as you put it, “more time on the drawing-board.”
      I commented on someone else’s review a little earlier that they feel the characters are unchanging. I like your take as well- that perhaps it’s a deliberate structural decision, as you call it, “the cyclical nature of the play.” is there perhaps room to explore this as a metaphor as well? By this, I mean, does the playwright give us a play like this to suggest life for these people in this world is itself cyclical? Just food for thought.
      I think you do a really nice job explaining the way the play uses overlapping dialogue- both the good and the bad.
      One minor but important note- I agree with Dan that shortening a play’s title implies at the very least an intimacy with it we may not have. There are times (calling, perhaps “Much Ado About Nothing” just “Much Ado) where this has started to become more commonplace, but even then it risks alienating the part of the audience for which the play, and even the theater, is not an old friend.
      -Scott

  6. The Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theater production of Erin Go Braghless trodded with the vulgar pace of the St. Patty’s Day stupor it sought out to imitate. As part of the American College Theater Festival of 2013, the viewing audience at the Community College of Cape Cod ‘s Tilden Arts Center bore witness to a 90-minute torpedo complete with the fixings that make the Irish holiday, and spirit, so detestable at times, and so endearing at others. Their is booze and cocaine to keep the chowder simmering, and just enough to let it boil over magnificently. With no intermission or set-changes, minus mere repurposings of staged props, we as the audience were locked in — for better or worse.
    And like any true bender — especially one set in a city as qualified as Somerville, Massachusetts to play host — we end up with more questions than answers. Nothing is really resolved in this play, and that’s all right.
    For the overall quality of acting, directing, and production more than make up for any inherent flaws there may have been in the way the story unfolds. That being said, the dialogue itself is an outright success. The wit of playwright John Shea’s words are as sharp as the heavy South Boston accents the characters carry with them through the show. Shea’s absurd and profane humor is skillfully placed throughout the piece. Its clear he has a knack for breaking up subject matter that is becoming dense with this humor. “Maybe nobody is happy,” laments Barry, who swiftly thereafter asserts he wished he were gay, saying, “Jesus was gay”. In Erin Go Braughless, it is in this absurd that Shea cuts his teeth.
    The ability of the actors to remain in character while the audience exploded with raucous laughter, as happened frequently throughout the performance was impressive. One couldn’t help wonder if the show may have benefitted from some form of voice magnification during these audience outbursts.
    Their was just as much coke circulating in the blood of Shea’s characters as their was booze, leading to some truly authentic bouts between characters that never approached any level of hollowness. Most notably, a fight between husband and wife characters Barry and Kelly, which ended in a backhand from Barry that sent a genuine rap across the theater with only the use of natural sound. This exchange underscores what I found to be the most successful aspect of this play, the strength of its actors.
    Another of noteworthy exchange was between the character Maura, played by Sarah Lavere, and her delusional, cokehead husband Steve, played by Nathan Wainright. The power and outright defiance in her voice made the hair on my arm stand up, albeit briefly, reminding us that sometimes a women’s voice is the most powerful instrument.
    One of the most puzzling, and thought-provoking aspects of this play was the way it ended. Seeing as I spent the majority of the time searching for a meaning, a theme, the Bagpipe driven “Amazing Grace” that accompanied Maura as she left the play puzzled me. In that format, it has often represented loss and death. What had died? Perhaps, more appropriately, what was to be remembered or taken away.

    • I also love your metaphors, although, as Dan has said, they do mix at times. AN even bigger metaphor that seems to be here is one which compares the experience of this play to that of St. Patrick’s Day itself. You do this deftly and cleverly. It might even be something you could exploit further to tie the piece even more tightly together.
      Dan mentioned a tiny bit of trouble with the ending, but here I sense the whole metaphor thing might come in handy as well. To me, the mournful bagpipes sort of trailing off in funereal fashion might well echo the place the characters were left, and even the audience. I also think you’re right- we are left with a lot of questions by the ending. Perhaps even a few more sentences, either asking more questions or attempting to answer them might be interesting.
      Everyone is writing at two a.m. or so, and so I’m inclined not to worry about grammar, spelling and punctuation. That said, I think the things Dan caught are indeed important, especially for an extended print review.
      Really nice work here overall- you expressed a valid, thoughtful response to the experience of seeing the play which is, I think, what we all strive for when writing reviews in general.
      -Scott

  7. Freud once said that the irish are the only people who are immune to psychoanalysis. A good long look at the families within Boston University’s production of Erin Go Bragh-less is enough to convince anyone of that statement. These people could frighten the Mansons. Fair warning, if you’re easily offended, read no further.

    Before the play even begins, it becomes perfectly apparent that the irish play a heavy role in things to come. The stage is decorated in green and shamrocks and a central bar with wooden stools and tables around it. The title itself is a bastardization of “long live Ireland”. This becomes even clearer once the characters open their mouths.

    Imagine an irish catholic family in Massachusetts; with beer, broads, brawls, and the kind of colorful language often reserved for American poor white trash. Characters spend entire chunks of their lives on bar stools, rickety kitchen tables, and perpetually smoking cigarettes. We’re treated to coke addicts, drinking binges, violent relationships, stabbings, threats, screaming family members, flashing, drunken ramblings, teen pregnancies, catholic pregnancies, hopeful pregnancies, hoax pregnancies; every kind of pregnancy you could imagine. Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

    The play requires a kind of audience member who can follow along with some pretty shocking happenings without being distracted. It’s rude and crude, but you will catch yourself laughing at some of what spews out of their mouths. It’s also surprisingly sophisticated in the way it’s staged. Four main set locations are all depicted at once, multiple conversations take place within scenes, and storylines alternate line by line. It’s clear to see that a lot of thought and effort went into creating the wonderful sets. There are no great cathedrals, but each location feels eerily real. I’d wager more than one person went up on stage after the show to see if the bar actually had a tap. It would definitely benefit to see the play more than once to really keep track and follow what goes on. It can be difficult to register everything that happens; characters gossip, break-up, offer advice, storm off, and coke up in rapid-fire succession. The Boston-irish accents vary from selective to broad. Certain words just lend themselves to accentuation. “Put the cah in the bahn if you con’t pahk outside” and et cetera. Oddly appropriate, the most foul-mouthed characters usually kept it up the most.

    The story is that of perpetual suffering and dysfunction within a group of friends. Arguments over who’s with who, who went back with who, who’s pregnant, who’s coked out of their minds, who’s getting out, and who’s to blame for it all. It cycles itself back around by the end, further stressing the idea that life is neither simple, nor clean, nor definitive. The nine characters are all messed up in one way or another (or in many ways all at once). There are no social workers here. One can’t help but wonder if being irish in this community just naturally makes life a hopeless mess. The personalities of several characters lend themselves to varying degrees of dysfunction and masochism. Each actor and actress fearlessly brings to life their thoroughly appalling character. Most of them spend the entire play on-stage, even if they are in the shadows smoking cigarettes while other scenes transpire.

    It never feels like you’re waiting for something to happen, as there is nary a moment of awkward silence until the very end. Said ending feels like a sudden and unexpected visual moment that leaves you questioning its meaning and purpose, but not its emotional weight. Recall the Freudian expression.

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