Gerard Mannix Flynn's blazing indictment of the nationwide, decades-long abuse of institutionalized schoolchildren in Ireland, titled "James X," is remarkable and should not be missed.
Flynn's masterful performance of his work is being presented at 45 Bleecker Street in a very limited run. In it, he lays bare the soul of a middle-aged adult, James O'Neill, who spent the bulk of his childhood being abused by every state-sponsored, often Roman Catholic-run institution to which he was sent, initially at age 6 for not attending school. From there, uncaring judges repeatedly sent him to increasingly harsh, punitive institutions without caring what happened to him.
The shocking true story, dramatized by Flynn, is produced by Gabriel Byrne (who also directed), Liam Neeson and Culture Project. It has the tragically familiar ring of current U.S. headlines about trusted school authorities charged with sexually abusing boys in their care for decades. The willful blindness of Irish officials and society at large, unwilling to confront the church that rules their lives, is even more appalling.
James is first seen in a waiting room, outside the courtroom where some of the victims of institutionalized childhood abuse are finally getting to testify against their abusers. He's given a file of the official record kept on him for 45 years, and realizes it's full of inaccurate or untrue condemnations of him.
With great physical and emotional artistry, Flynn enacts James' attempts to reclaim his own story by telling it for the first time, hoping to release his own soul with the truth at last. Flynn skillfully draws the audience into the increasingly grim, scary world of James' childhood, beginning with a comical enactment of his reluctant birth and a few relatively happy years at home.
In rapid-fire, poetic dialogue, alternating black humor with moments of deep anguish, Flynn embodies both child and man. He swings from exuberance to despair as James recalls painful memories and his childhood confusion about why this was happening to him.
As James' life of "crime" unspools, it emerges that many of the nuns, Christian brothers and priests, psychiatrists and jailers who dealt with him over the years either neglected or abused him harshly, as they did with the other children. He was tortured physically, sexually and emotionally, even deemed "criminally insane" at one point, and beaten so badly by one Christian brother that he required surgery.
By the time James quietly delivers what he calls "the real story," which is even worse than what he's already shared, Flynn has completely mesmerized the audience with his genuine personification of a much-mistreated victim who courageously faces the nightmare he lived. This deeply enthralling drama is only performing through Dec. 18.