Sometimes, on the way to reclaim oneself, it is necessary to unload. So, on the brink of his 2002 testimony in the Irish courts, where he charges Ireland with willful blindness, deafness and indifference toward the institutional violence committed against children, that is precisely what James X (Darius Pierce) does.
In Gerard Mannix Flynn‘s play James X onstage now at Corrib Theatre, we learn more in the litany of abuses committed by Church and State against one of Ireland’s most vulnerable populations, the children of poor families, as the story follows the plaintiff through his first 45 years of life.
Somewhat autobiographical, the story begins with James’s birth–a wild ride of chaos, dismay, and a fair amount of slapping!–that sets the stage for what is to follow. Children, violence, headlice, and truancy. At age 11, James is remanded to Goldenbridge Industrial School, which begins his abusive journey through schools, courts, health boards, industrial schools, psychiatric hospitals, and prisons.
Directed by Gemma Whelan, Darius Pierce creates a sympathetic and memorable James, telling the story in Flynn’s rapid-fire stream of consciousness prose poetry. Beneath all the raging dark humor and rhymed couplets, Pierce oozes the anger and terror of a child who has no control whatever over his destiny. At times, it’s hard to keep up, or catch one’s breath as we’re moved on to the next horror.
This is the play that kept me awake most of last night. It is Ireland’s story, but it also reflects the world we live in.“This is a play about survival in the bleakest of circumstances,” said Gemma Whelan, James X director and artistic director of Corrib Theatre.
“With whimsy and theatricality it reckons with the past and it challenges us as a society to take responsibility for actions taken by our social service institutions. With James X, Mannix Flynn has the courage to face up to an entire system—the Irish Church and State—that scapegoated and punished powerless children. He struggles to tell his own truth on behalf of the
countless others who don’t have a voice. In the U.S. today we have put children in cages, we deal inhumanely with refugees seeking asylum, and here in our own…Oregon, the Child Welfare division of the Department of Human Services (DHS) has failed miserably to protect our most vulnerable children in the foster care system.”
This West Coast premiere of James X marks the first time Mannix’s play has been produced without him in the role of James. I like to think of Mannix, Whelan, and Pierce conjuring up the ghosts of James Joyce and Frank McCourt as they lead us through this unforgettable story.
Special thanks to Corrib’s creative team including Kyra Sanford, scenic designer and technical director; Gregory Pulver, costume design; Kelly Terry, lighting design; Rodolfo Ortega, sound design; Amy Katrina Bryan, stage/production manager.
James X plays through March 1, Thursdays through Sundays at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont St., Portland.