Gabriel Byrne’s final performance in his play, based on his elegiac memoir, Walking With Ghosts, will be a bit earlier than originally planned.
Walking With Ghosts will have its final Broadway performance at the Music Box Theatre November 20.
Starring two-time Tony nominee Gabriel Byrne, the show was initially scheduled to run through December 30. The production began previews October 18 and officially opened October 27. Read the reviews here.
Described as a “lyrical homage to the people and landscapes that shape our destinies,” the part-solo play, part-reflection offers an intimate look at the actor’s reflections on his life. Byrne shares memories growing up in a working class family in Dublin and the “theatre of the street” to the pressures of fame and everything comic, dark, and seemingly commonplace in between from his memoir of the same name.
Gabriel Talks with Newsweek
In an interview with Joe Westerfield published today, Gabriel sheds light on producer Anne Clarke approaching him to make the play, working with director Lonny Price in defining and creating it, and why Irish art came to focus on the spoken word more than any other medium, which led to the emphasis on theater, now recognized as Ireland’s great gift to the world.
About themes in the play
. . . So time [as a theme] runs through the play.”
“So does the idea of identity: Who are you? One of the things that I added into the play, quite recently, was when I went to England first, it was the first time I was forced to think of myself as Irish. Because when you’re in Ireland, you’re not walking around saying to people, ‘Are you Irish? Or, here in America, you’re not walking around saying, ‘Are you American?’ But if you leave your country, you become immediately identified with your nationality. In the play, at 11 years of age, I go to a different country, where I was immediately recognized as Irish. So identity goes through the piece as well, and identity as an actor: the idea of changing your identity and so forth.”
“A lot of those themes were things that I wanted to get the audience to talk about, because it’s not really about my life, per se. It’s about ‘I put my life out here. And maybe you can look at yours.’ That’s the intention.”
“The show, which has been basically the same with two iterations in the West End of London, the Edinburgh Theatre Festival and then Broadway. I remember thinking, Will an American or Broadway audience understand this language?”
“And then I thought, Well, of course: They’re sophisticated. They’ve seen Brian Friel, [John Millington] Synge and Martin McDonough. Even if they don’t understand a specific sentence, they get the sense of it.”
Working with Director Lonny Price
He’s a superb director of actors. And I think some of that comes from the fact he was an actor himself. But just because one is an actor doesn’t necessarily make you a wonderful director. He’s very compassionate. He’s patient. He’s extremely kind to the process of mistake and failure—two steps back and one step forward. But he’s also very honest, He’ll say, ‘No, that doesn’t work,’ ‘Let’s explore that. I think this might work’. So working with him was a joy. And in the time that we were together, there was not like one moment of discord. We were totally on each other’s wavelength the whole time, because we just wanted to make the best thing possible. And it was a joyful process. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Price and Byrne have known each other since 2008 or so, Byrne was taking a break, having finished In Treatment, Price called him up about working on Camelot, which would play at Lincoln Center. “I’m not a singer. I can pass, but to be standing in front of the New York Philharmonic with 100 musicians was jumping into the cold sea. Anyway, Lonny and I got on really, really well. I did that and it was the first and only musical I’ve ever done. We kept in touch after that and we became friends. And we’d always wanted to work together. So when this came up, it seemed like a natural fit.”
“Our Art was the Spoken Word”
Our access to the arts was extremely limited because of the occupation by the English Imperial Army. So, people had to find an artistic outlet other than the predictable ones.”
“Art and language and history went underground, and the only way that people could express themselves was through the spoken word—and the spoken word in Gaelic. If you look at the way Irish history developed, the home, and the hearth was where everything tended to happen. That’s where the stories were told. That’s where the mythological stories were passed on. And the fireside was a theater. And so stories were listened to and imaginations stoked by things that you couldn’t see. The world of imagination became extremely powerful in the narrative arts.
A Taste of What We Are Missing
Here is a clip from the streaming version of Gabriel’s play, made available by Landmark Productions and shared with fans to celebrate his birthday this year:
Always In Our Hearts
Joe Westerfield’s Newsweek interview with Gabriel ends with this:
Byrne’s love of language is evident in every line of his memoir and in every speech in his play. Walking With Ghosts sounds and reads more like a tone poem—something along the lines of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales—than the typical memoir. And as specific as it is to Byrne’s life, it has a universality that should keep it alive with any actor in the role wherever Irish plays are performed.
What a nice way to close out this run of the play on Broadway, with a nod Gabriel’s talent and to the greatness of the work he has written–and a look down the road to the future.
Wherever that road takes you, Gabriel Byrne, we will be there. heart