PLAYING BRENDAN BEHAN AT ARSENAL CENTER FOR THE ARTS' A BROTH OF A BOY | SEPTEMBER 25–OCTOBER 7 Bostonian Danny Venezia moved to New York City for theater school in the 1996, determined to change his life through stage work. After four years of training, Venezia took on one particularly special role: the great Irish writer and IRA man Brendan Behan, who died in 1964. Though intimidated by the thought of helming a solo show so early in his career, Venezia threw himself into the part and steeped himself in Behan's work and personal tribulations (alcoholism, explosive IRA missions, and juvenile prison, to name a few). The production, dubbed A Broth of a Boy, debuted in 2002 at Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theater, whereupon Venezia earned raves. Venezia rode the show's success across the pond for a successful run in Ireland and the UK. Now, after nearly a decade, Venezia is bringing his lauded performance back to Boston. He took a moment to talk to us as the character he's played for a decade.
DID YOU BEGIN WRITING AT AN EARLY AGE? Well, I've been a literary man all my life. When I was four years old, my mother caught me under the covers . . . reading a tram ticket. (I know what you were thinking.) My father, who was a house painter, read classic literature throughout our childhood. I had my first poem published at age 14 as a member of Fianna Éiriann, which is the youth movement of the IRA. I learned to write in the Irish when I was in Mountjoy Prison. Both of my famous plays, The Hostage and The Quare Fellow, were first published in Irish.
YOU JOINED THE IRA AT AGE 16. WHAT SORT OF MISSIONS DID YOU UNDERTAKE? For that matter, I was introduced to the IRA from the moment I was born. My father's first sight of me as a baby was through the bars of Kilmainham Gaol, where he was imprisoned for two years for Republican activities. I'm not at liberty to discuss some of the secret missions I have undertaken, as this would compromise the IRA. But I was caught on a solo mission in England to blow up the Liverpool docks and sentenced to three years in a borstal reformatory. A year later, I was arrested in Dublin for attempted murder during a commemoration ceremony for Wolfe Tone. Two detectives were trying to arrest my IRA comrade, so I grabbed a gun off an IRA officer who was standing there doing nothing.
GIVEN THE TIME YOU'VE SPENT IN THE SLAMMER, HOW DOES ONE READJUST TO LIFE OUTSIDE OF PRISON? OR SURVIVE PRISON ITSELF? Let's see. No more British pajamas. No more crapping in a pail. No more putting me down in solitary, where they tan your effin' hide. So I would say it's not very difficult adjusting to life outside of prison. I survived quite easily, making sure I could get my hands on as many books as possible. I got on quite well with my cellmates, and beat the bejesus out of anyone trying to screw me over.
YOU ONCE CALLED YOURSELF "A DRINKER WITH A WRITING PROBLEM." HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE TWO? Oh, never the two together. The drink makes for great stories the day after, but whenever I write, it's straight Irish black tea for me. I learned early on that writing takes discipline. So I awake at 6 am in the morning and write until noon before heading off to the local "markets" for a jar.
ANY PARTING WORDS? It's a quare world, but the only one we have to be getting on with. Every cripple has his own way of walking.