Josh Sticklin shines in one-man ‘Basra Boy’
For just a moment at the beginning of “Basra Boy” at the Keegan Theatre, the text sounds like a lyrical memory play, its narrative infused with romantic undertones. But then Rosemary Jenkinson’s play swerves into darker territory, summoning up a contemporary Belfast of dim alleys and sleazy pubs. The main character, Speedy (Josh Sticklin), is a troubled youth, a teen who has grown up with his best friend, Stig, drinking, fighting and doing drugs.
Sticklin plays all the roles in this beautifully crafted play, delineating clearly in his rapid-fire brogue the who’s who of Stig’s and Speedy’s youth.
He recalls the array of people he and Stig knew: the sergeant of their marching band, their mates, Speedy’s mother, her unsavory boyfriend, a girl in a bar. The characters, which never descend into stereotypes, are neatly drawn and entertaining.
Director Abigail Isaac paces Sticklin’s performance well, emphasizing the physicality that is packed into Jenkinson’s script. She allows Speedy only brief occasional pauses in his stream-of-consciousness monologue to dwell on the past, change gears, then take off again at top speed.
“Basra Boy” is not a cautionary tale and Jenkinson clearly isn’t intending “Basra Boy” to be a comment on how the youth of Belfast — or any community — should live today. There is no idealistic philosophizing offered for Stig’s enlistment and no condemnation of Speedy’s refusal to enlist. But it’s impossible to ignore Jenkinson’s comparison between Speedy’s choice and Stig’s decision to escape the boredom and suffocation of being poor in Belfast.
George Lucas’ set is simple and effective. Brown tarps covered in graffiti hang on the back and side walls of the stage, creating the atmosphere of a burned-out Belfast ghetto. In the center of the stage are three wooden stools surrounding a large wooden bar, which serve as a pub, Speedy’s bedroom and the kitchen in his home.
This “Basra Boy” succeeds for two reasons: Jenkinson’s ability to write a humorous, poignant but unsentimental play about a close-knit pair of friends and the nostalgia one of those friends feels when the communication between them is lost; and Sticklin’s boundless energy, his ability to sustain convoluted emotions and to shift rapidly from scene to scene and persona to persona, taking the audience on a whirlwind tour of one not-so-bad boy’s life.