The Steward Of Christendom


REVIEW by Willard Manus

Brian Dennehy 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 in 1922.

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 well.

(Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-628-2772 or visit