They creep in from the shadows, snorting and snickering. The singing pigs that skulk and shimmy by way of “The Butcher Boy,” which opened on Monday on the Irish Repertory Theater, are foolish but additionally half menacing. Under the neck, they’re dressed like townspeople in Sixties Eire, the place the brand new musical, written and composed by Asher Muldoon, is ready. From the jowls up, nevertheless, their snout-nosed masks are eerily emotionless.
The swine refrain seems to be a totem of indecency, embodying the darkish and unknown depths of the present’s narrator, Francie (Nicholas Barasch), a jaunty lad with flame-colored hair and an implacably sunny disposition. In his upbeat brogue, Francie recounts a story of boyhood mischief and alienation with a zeal that belies what appears to be the specter of promised violence. If there’s hazard lurking beneath his gleaming grin, Francie could also be a bit too good at hiding the knife.
Based mostly on the 1992 novel by Patrick McCabe, “The Butcher Boy” presents a myopic view of a troubled upbringing — name it an anti-coming of age story. Francie claims that his adolescence was idyllic, although scenes within the musical plainly show in any other case. He and his finest pal (Christian Unusual) fish and carouse and steal comedian books from a nerdy classmate (Daniel Marconi), whose mom (Michele Ragusa) fatefully derides Francie and his dad and mom on the premise of social class, calling them pigs.
“It was a candy and easy time,” Francie sings as his father (Scott Stangland) belts him throughout the butt. “We have been glad,” he says earlier than strolling in on his mom (Andrea Lynn Inexperienced) about to hold herself from a fuse wire. The motormouthed Francie turns to the viewers with asides and misdirections that dissemble as a lot as they reveal.
Within the novel, McCabe’s prose is propulsive and unpredictable, bordering on stream of consciousness and effervescent with proto-punk sensibility, not in contrast to Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting,” revealed in Scotland a 12 months later.
However placing a narrator as unreliable as Francie on the helm of a stage musical is a tough enterprise. Ought to an viewers consider what they hear or what they see? That relies on which is extra convincing, and the outcomes listed here are robust to decipher. Is Francie fooling solely himself, or is he attempting to idiot everybody else? The reply usually appears to be each, and it’s a tough deception for a performer to drag off, notably whereas recounting and collaborating in two and a half hours’ price of motion.
“The Butcher Boy” may need been finessed right into a sharper, extra forceful black comedy if the rating from Muldoon, who just isn’t but a senior in faculty, had developed a extra distinctive viewpoint. Its dutiful tour by way of Broadway-style pop, vaudeville and Irish influences is basically referential.
The manufacturing, directed by Ciaran O’Reilly, makes use of graphic shorthand to recommend the stress between Francie’s insular thoughts and the surface world. The wood-slatted partitions of the set by Charlie Corcoran resemble a treehouse, whereas an oversize rendering of a turn-dial TV serves as a backdrop for Dan Scully’s projections. The display screen looms massive over the compact stage, nodding briefly to the turmoil of the Sixties and to Francie’s style for “The Twilight Zone,” however the significance of mass media to Francie’s tortured descent is both overstated or underplayed.
“The Butcher Boy” facilities Francie’s perspective to a fault, in order that the convictions of different characters are mediated by way of his personal. It’s a strong idea however requires a fragile physics that staging a narrative in three dimensions tends to defy. When characters who’re with out emotional company specific themselves in track, whose heartstrings can they declare to be pulling? Francie appears decided to show that he himself has none.
There are promising moments of affecting sentiment on the conclusion of Muldoon’s rating, in ballads that appear to supply unlikely decision, earlier than Francie yanks it away with a nonetheless indeterminate rage. However by the point Francie’s personal masks lastly falls, the revelation feels oddly cold.
The Butcher Boy
Via Sept. 11 on the Irish Repertory Theater, Manhattan; irishrep.org. Working time: 2 hours half-hour.