ONE blogs – LISA DEL ROSSO – Theatrespace Review: JAMES X: a BRAVE theatrical Experience!


How does society deal with a juvenile delinquent? An “abandoned boy?”

In the case of “James X,” written and performed by the astonishing Gerard Mannix Flynn, at the age of eleven he was sentenced into Ireland’s industrial school system, run by congregations of nuns and brothers. On his way to the first, St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Letterfrack, he was orally raped in the car by a brother, and sodomized by another once he arrived. From there, a succession of schools followed, then prison, and the abuse never stopped: physical, sexual, mental. No matter how many times James X complained, nothing was ever done.

The Culture Project, Gabriel Byrne (who also directed) and Liam Neeson are to be commended for bringing to New York a brave, wrenching theatrical experience. Byrne has been very candid about his own abuse at the hands of a priest, and how he tried to come to terms with it included a very public letter of apology written for TheIrish Times in the 1980’s, which was met with a thunderous silence.

Finally, times have changed, with hundreds of victims coming forward and telling their stories, blame being apportioned, and amends being made by the Catholic Church. These are small steps, but in the right direction.

“James X” is the pseudonym on his file, for confidentiality, when he testifies before the Report of the Commission to inquire into Child Abuse. Now a middle-aged man, James X sits outside the room waiting, nervous, jittery. For most of the 85 minute play, Flynn goes at a clip, and puts on quite a stream-of-consciousness, rolling on the ground, sometimes funny, animated song and dance account of his life. No sexual abuse is mentioned until, just before the end, Flynn confesses his “show” was a lie. The lie he “invented to make his life tolerable.”

Flynn reads his statement. He reads out the litany of his sexual abuse, the physical abuse that landed him in the hospital for an operation, his incarceration in the prison for the criminally insane. He was betrayed by the system, and tells the tribunal, “You said you would cherish us and take care of us. And you didn’t. This is your file, not mine. It is your shame. And I’m handing it back.”

© ONE Magazine 2011