SHAY DUFFIN


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Shay is a character actor featured in many films, but he is best known for his one-man-show about the life of Irish playwright and heavy drinker Brendan Behan.

Playing Brendan Behan (1923-64), the poet, novelist, playwright and Irish Republican Army operative, Mr. Duffin points out that decades ago in working-class Ireland, consuming way too much alcohol was less a social disgrace than a symbol of affluence.  “To get enough to eat was regarded as an achievement,” he says. “To get drunk was a victory.”

In the uneven but often charming “Shay Duffin as Brendan Behan: Confessions of an Irish Rebel,” Mr. Duffin, who looks the part, sips a pint or two of Guinness stout as he regales his audience with excerpts from Behan’s works.

Most of the time Duffin has the benefit of Behan’s singular voice. His subjects include James Joyce, Oscar Wilde’s death, William Butler Yeats and parsnips, the first Jewish mayor of Dublin, John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, atomic age anxiety and a policeman who married a prostitute but soon brought her down to his level.

Failure of all sorts is a recurring theme. He says of trying to kiss an overweight woman, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is in the way.” Of one of his various career endeavors, he explains, “I quit writing poetry in 1950 because I found easier ways to starve.”

A good bit of the material is quite profane. Mr. Duffin does funny voices, some incomprehensible. He sings several times and seems like the kind of man you would like to drink with but might become nervous about toward closing time.  The later part of Act 2 makes that point almost too vividly. As Mr. Duffin slurs his words, gasps for breath, grasps his left arm and takes long pauses while searching for words, he is more than believable as Behan, who in later life (his 40’s) was said to make public appearances while passing-out drunk. The re-creation is painful to watch.

Cat Cohen accompanied Duffin’s one-man act and performed behind him at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub on Fairfax Avenue.  At the time Cat wore a beret and was called Davy Cohan to make him blend in with the Irish ambience.  Customers would send up glasses of Murphy’s Whiskey for Cat to drink.  It’s a wonder Cat didn’t become more like Brendan Behan in that environment.

You can find out more about Shay Duffin at www.imdb.com/name/nm0240474/ and www.dougholder.blogspot.com/.../shay-duffin-and-his-portrait-of-irish.html.

 


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