“Whiteheaded Boy” takes the stage this weekend

Jess Vogt

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Tim X. Troy was a visiting professor at Trinity College in Dublin in the fall of 2005 when he discovered Lennox Robinson, the playwright of this Spring Term’s play, “Whiteheaded Boy.”
The Abbey Irish National Theatre presented another of Robinson’s plays that year and Troy enjoyed it so much that he began poring over Robinson’s works in search of a play he could bring back to Lawrence. He happened upon “Whiteheaded Boy.”
After Troy found the play, he suggested to his fellow theater associate Kathy Privatt that the theater department do a U.K.-themed season.
She and theater arts Fellow Annette Thornton complied, bringing Charles Dickens’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and an adaption of a George Shaw novel.
The play, by an Irish dramatist, rounds out the theme of the main stage shows of the 2006-07 theater season.
Originally written in 1916, “Whiteheaded Boy” is a family drama and comedy about a boy who has flunked a medical school exam for the third time. His family is trying to get rid of him by sending him across the sea to Canada.
The play was written at a very explosive time in Irish history, premiering only weeks after and blocks from the Easter Rising rebellion in Dublin.
Senior Tammy Forward, who plays the maid and comic relief Hannah in “Whiteheaded Boy,” was with Troy in Dublin when he discovered the play.
“It was unique for Robinson to write a comedy in this time when most people were writing about the tension,” Forward said. “He was able to state his thoughts and he wouldn’t be chastised because it was a comedy.”
“It’s very much a comedy — not about politics, but wrapped in that moment,” commented Troy.
“We learned a lot about Irish history and independence in the process,” said Forward. “There are sociopolitical issues that have been simmering for more than 100 years now.”
Despite the distance of time and space, audience members will be able to relate to the struggles in school and life of the lead character, Denis. He is the “whiteheaded boy” of the family — an Irish colloquial phrase meaning “favored son.”
In what is known in the world of theater as “kitchen-sink realism,” Robinson draws 12 very different characters in the play, each of whom speaks in a traditional Irish dialect.
The dialect has provided a challenge for the actors. Freshman Chad Bay, who plays Denis in the show, admitted, “I’ve spent lots of hours listening to the dialect tape and talking in an Irish accent.”
“It’s not only the dialect,” added Forward, “but also the melodic flow and rhythm of speech that’s very different from our own.”
Some of the Irish phrases have been difficult for the actors also.
“It’s still English,” said Troy. “But it’s Irish English and they way they use words is very different.”
He has forced the actors to make sure they understand every word they’re saying. “It’s like Shakespeare. If the actor knows what he’s saying, the audience will get it.”
“But it’s good old-fashioned writing,” continues Troy. “With an emphasis on good.”
Indeed, the play’s message is one that audiences of all ages can relate to. “It’s about freedom to manage your own destiny,” Troy explained.