BWW Review: JAMES X at Corrib Theatre
Corrib Theatre's production of JAMES X comes at an interesting time. The show opened just a few days after French writer Gabrial Matzneff was charged with promoting the sexual abuse of children. Everyone knew Matzneff was a pedophile -- he wrote about it in his books -- but he escaped conviction for decades because he was protected by the French elite. And then, a couple of days after JAMES X opened, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in the face of thousands of accusations of sexual abuse. Once again, these abuses were known -- the Boy Scouts started keeping private records of them in the mid-1960s.
And then, of course, there are the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals, which form the central concern in JAMES X. Written by Gerard Mannix Flynn, based on his own experience, JAMES X is a personal, powerful, and surprisingly lyrical call-to-action for us to stop turning a blind eye to the abuse of the most vulnerable people in our society. This production, starring Darius Pierce, marks the first time anyone other than Flynn has performed this solo show, and it's the best thing I've seen at Corrib so far.
In the play, a middle-aged James is preparing to confront the institutions of Church and State in court for the abuses he suffered in childhood and the ongoing trauma they caused. He recounts the events of his life, starting from birth, through his time at an Industrial School and his various encounters with the law. The script itself is a prodigious work of art -- a piece of spoken word poetry that's astonishing for its immensity, its rhythmic quality, and also its unexpected whimsy.
Pierce's performance is a fast, pulsating tour de force. You might have heard about the research showing that audience members' heartbeats synchronize when they watch live theatre. I'd be willing to bet that happened at JAMES X and that all of our hearts were beating precisely in sync with the cadence of Pierce's masterful delivery.
JAMES X is a tough show. It takes a no holds barred approach to an already difficult subject and its pace is unrelenting. I was wiped at the end! (I can't imagine how Pierce does it night after night.) So, if you're looking for a light evening's entertainment, this isn't it (if that's your goal, probably best to avoid Irish theatre as a whole). But, if you're into the kind of theatre that won't let you off the hook and want to see a brilliant performance of an incredibly demanding but superb script, this is your play.
JAMES X runs through March 1. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Adam Liberman