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Paulanne Simmons

"Confessions of an Irish Rebel" Is Not for the Irish Only

"Confessions of an Irish Rebel"
Created by Shay Duffin
Irish Arts Center
533 West 51st St. between 10th & 11th avenues
Opened Oct. 11, 2006
Wed. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
$45 (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Closes Nov. 5, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 2, 2006

Playwright, songwriter, novelist, author of short stories and IRA terrorist, Brendan Behan was an important part of the 20th century political and literary scene in Ireland. But unlike many of his contemporaries, he is virtually forgotten today. Which is all the more reason to celebrate Shay Duffin's one-man show, "Confessions of an Irish Rebel," at the Irish Arts Center until November 5.

Duffin, whose decades-long career includes singing with the Irish Rovers and touring in "Finnian's Rainbow" and "Brigadoon," is a brilliant raconteur and mimic. His rich voice with its delightful Irish brogue seduces whether in song or spoken word. In "Confessions of an Irish Rebel," he uses his considerable talents to portray Behan during his last six months, when, his liver destroyed and much of his vitality gone, the old revolutionary reviews his life and the state of the world.

Duffin has said that his show could have been called The Three Phases of Behan, because he designed it to deal with the three most important aspects of Behan's life: Brendan the talker, Brendan the rebel and Brendan the pub entertainer.

As Duffin and Behan both come from the south side of Dublin (Duffin grew up trying to avoid Behan whenever he saw him staggering home from the pub) and both have the gift of gab, the first and last of these aspects must have come easily to Duffin. As for the rebel, Duffin slips into the role as easily as Behan downed glass after glass of Guinness stout (which Duffin says, observing the dark brew with its white, foamy head, looks so much like a priest).

"Confessions of a Rebel" shows Behan working as a pimp in Harry's Bar in Paris while he writes pornography, holding forth in pubs, enduring life in prison and defying the British police. Behan plays all the necessary roles, from an uptight British officer to a little old Irish lady. His ability to alter his voice and face is extraordinary.

Duffin also sings and recites poems (Wilde's are particular favorites). And of course where would any raconteur be without those memorable quips that are designed to ring true in their very extravagance?

Here's a sampling: "Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves." "The Irish aren't my audience; they're my raw material." "I stopped writing poetry because I found a better way to starve."

Duffin creates each night's performance from a repertoire of about two dozen scenes that have names like ""Popes, Pulpits, and Parish Priests," ""Parsnips and Yeats" and "Pimp and Pornographer." The ingredients may vary but the flavor is always bittersweet and spicy.

On any given night it is certain that a good number in the audience are Irish. Duffin's songs often become sing-alongs. But the ability to recite Joyce or Yeats by heart while downing a few glasses of stout is certainly not a requirement for appreciating Duffin's sparkling performance.

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