is one of America's finest actors, but he comes a cropper in THE STEWARD
OF CHRISTENDOM, which is part of a series of linked family plays by Irish
playwright, Sebastian Barry.
Dennehy has a tour de force role as the aged ex-Dublin police chief, Thomas
Dunne, now living out his last, infirm days in a mental institution (circa
1932). A Catholic, Dunne worked for the British Crown, an act that condemned
him as a traitor when the Irish war of independence led to a regime change
Shunted aside by history and by most of his family and friends, he spends
his time in a cell, clad in filthy long johns, ruminating over the good
and bad times he has known. Hurt and shamed as he is by his fall from
power, he still believes he did the right thing as head of the Metropolitan
Police, upholding law and order on behalf of Queen and Church.
Barry gives Chief Dunne a torrent of words to say, a veritable Niagara
of memories, recollections and poetic sallies, broken up only occasionally
by visits from the hospital staff or by his three daughters, only one
of whom has any affection for him (shades of "King Lear"). Dennehy
captures the poignancy of this broken man, but he fails to handle the
verbal challenges of this difficult role. Straining for an authentic Irish
accent, he mangles much of the text, rendering it unintelligible, even
when amplified by house hearing-aids. That's unforgivable in a long play
that comes close to being a monologue.
The blame for this failure doesn't lie solely with Dennehy, of course:
the play's director and producer should have their knuckles rapped as
(Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-628-2772 or visit centertheatregroup.org)