Adapted from his best-selling 2021 memoir of the same name, Walking with Ghosts by Irish stage and screen star Gabriel Byrne has already enjoyed highly acclaimed runs in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin before coming directly to Broadway for a limited engagement of 75 performances at the Music Box Theatre. Directed by Emmy Award winner Lonny Price, Byrne, now 72, reflects on the ups and downs of his life’s journey in his own words, in a tour-de-force solo performance that is poetic and lyrical in its language, witty and poignant in its content, and thoroughly captivating and affecting in its delivery.
In addition to having more than 80 films and a variety of TV series to his credit, the Tony-nominated actor has brought his mastery to Broadway in the Eugene O’Neill classics A Moon for the Misbegottten, A Touch of the Poet, and Long Day’s Journey into Night. The signature depth and emotional honesty for which he is known and lauded are seen and felt again here to perfection, along with his potent understatement and natural ease on stage, as he takes us on his personal path from rags to riches to rehab to reminiscences, exposing the most cherished and distressing memories of the people, places, and experiences that shaped him and continue to haunt his mind – the eponymous ghosts he walks with inside of himself.
Beginning with his working-class childhood as the oldest of six siblings on the outskirts of Dublin, Byrne introduces us to his family, community, and environs, conjuring visions of “a now almost vanished Ireland” and the real-life characters from his past, many now departed, with his descriptive detail and shifts in his mimicking voice and demeanor. We get to know them, and him, through the delights of his young imagination and the economic challenges he and his parents faced, sharing memories of the excitement of going out for high tea with his mother and his introduction to the love of movies by his grandmother, his departure for England at the age of eleven to join a seminary, where he was sexually molested by a priest, and his subsequent return to Ireland and a series of unfulfilling low-paying dead-end jobs, until a friend suggested he audition with an amateur theater company, where he felt the happiness and sense of belonging that changed his direction and launched him on a professional career in acting, and, with it, a bohemian lifestyle.
Byrne’s candid commentary on both the fun and the pitfalls of stardom included silly jokes and hilarious imitations of the different curtain calls of a variety of performers, and a visit in Venice with a drunken Richard Burton that made him recognize his own issues with alcohol addiction. So did the incidents of him passing out in a doorway on the street and waking up with an unknown naked woman in his bed, which ultimately led him to hospitalization and treatment for dependency, and to now being 24 years sober. He also shared the pain of losing his sister to mental illness at the age of 32, and to coming to an understanding of his parents after their deaths. Their presence and all of his defining memories remain indelible.
A subtle artistic design enhances the stellar performance with evocative sound and original music (by Sinéad Diskin) and lighting (by Sinéad McKenna), as Byrne moves around the uncluttered stage (set by McKenna) in a traditional shirt, vest, jacket, and trousers (costume by Joan O’Cleary), from chair to stool to desk, before a backdrop of three empty monumental gold picture frames that he fills for us with his moving heartfelt virtuoso accounts. It’s an intimate look at the man and his mind in a stirring evening that should not be missed.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission.
Walking with Ghosts plays through Friday, December 30, 2022, at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $58-318, plus fees), go online.