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On Blueberry Hll
I suppose the murderous bits of the sixties never really reached us, we were too far away from everything. Nevertheless, the sixties – like the whole world stuck its finger in an electric plug. In those days you could do a thing like that. You could stick your finger straight in. Parents lived in fear of things like that. But not too much else. — PJ
Niall Buggy
No need for an elaborate set or anything more than the two bunk beds in a bleak prison cell that the play's characters — inmates— retreat to whenever the other is either moving about or talking directly to us. Sebastian Barry's play now having its U.S. premiere at 59E59 is a tour de force for its players Niall Buggy and David Ganly. It is also a riveting experience for the audience during its 105 minutes with no intermission. This Fishamble production that had its premiere at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2017 is being presented here as part of Origin Theatre Company's 1st Irish Festival.

Completely driven by narrative with no exchange of conversation, the play nevertheless moves on a highly dramatic trajectory. Each man's monologue adds details to people, incidents and to places in and around Dublin and beyond where we see the ironic convergence of their lives past and present. The richness and eloquence of Barry's prose brings the world outside just as Christie and PJ make their interior stories vibrate and come live with emotional veracity. br>
Far be it from me to disclose what these two convicted murderers serving life sentences have in common or what act of perversity has made them cellmates for the past twenty years. The fleshy bible-reading poetically inclined PJ (Ganly) is a former seminarian and Christy is a tough-talking mason by trade. They both have hard-scrabble family stories— some ordinary, others sad and regrettable— as each is committed to examining his motives and the course of the actions that have brought him to the point where the play begins and ends.

Under the mood enhancing spotlight provided by lighting designer Mark Galione, the improbability of the entwining stories make us believe why PJ and Christie would commit unconscionably heinous crimes. Both these sworn enemies are inexorably tied together for life by their acts.

There comes a point when we begin to see the playwright's perspective to consider the healing power of forgiveness despite humankind's inclination to commit horrific acts against each other. The play also clears a cobbled path for these two men to survive and each to ultimately see into the heart of the other.

Barry's writing is so beautifully crafted that we overlook the plot's stretch of credibility. Some might quibble that what the audience experiences is a dramatized novella. It is, however, ultimately empowered by the sheer force of the portrayals as well as by the theory that we attract into our lives the things we hate and then learn to love them.

New York theatergoers may recall Buggy's excellent performances in Aristocrats and also Translations both for the Manhattan Theatre Club. Here he is gripping as he brings forth Christy's vivid memories of a good life outside and then his soul-bruising transformation into a revenge-seeking killer. Equally persuasive is Ganly as PJ who shares the torment of his tortured soul and is forever unable to understand his actions.

It could not have been easy for director Jim Culleton to keep alive and lively what is essentially a static drama, but he has done so admirably. Award-winning Dublin playwright Barry has already secured a place as a lauded novelist. Be assured that your eyes will not leave the stage or the faces of these two superb actors.

There is a radio in the cell in which we hear "On Blueberry Hill" as famously recorded by Fats Domino in 1956. Its lyrics evidently provide the inspiration that keeps Christie going — and where you should be going if you want to see two great actors in the kind of challenging and unusual play that you won't easily forget.

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On Blueberry Hill by Sebastian Barry
Directed by Jim Culleton
Cast: Nial Buggy (Christy), David Ganly (PJ)
Set and Costume Design: Sabine Dargent
Lighting Design: Mark Galione
Sound Design: Denis Clohessy
Stage Manager: Miriam Hyflier
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes no intermission
59E59 Theatre B, 59 East 59th Street
From 01/08/19 Opened 01/13/19 Ends 02/03/19
Review by Simon Saltzman based on press preview performance 01/09/19

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