March 20, 2005

O'Byrne factor: Irish actor makes his home on the NY stage


Sunday, March 20, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- Brķan F. O'Byrne welcomes a visitor to his dressing room at the Walter Kerr Theater with an apology. The cast of the off-Broadway hit "Doubt" has just moved into the show's new Broadway theater, and its lead actor hasn't had the chance to make it feel like home.

Among O'Byrne's scant personal touches already present are a New York Mets pocket calendar, a baseball that chants "Let's Go Mets" when it's bounced, and his Mets calendar with its daily trivia question. A photo shoot and rehearsal await, but now it's quiz time: In 2000, he asks, where did the Mets tie their 1964 team record with 23 hits in a nine-inning game?

The answer is Colorado, but the scene begs another question: How did someone from the tiny Irish town of Mullagh; someone who grew up a Gaelic football fan; someone so Irish his first name is pronounced "BREE-un"; someone who earned two Tony nominations for Irish imports and a Tony Award for an English play, become obsessed with the Mets?

After disdaining baseball for his first decade here, O'Byrne, 37, went to Shea Stadium. Soon he began listening on the radio. Then he realized he was in love.

"I bring my radio to the game and sit with my buddies, it's totally dweeb city," he says proudly, adding that his Mets flag will soon adorn his dressing room.

Perhaps it's not so shocking that he'd discover his inner American.

O'Byrne plays his first American character -- Father Flynn, with his heavy Bronx accent -- in John Patrick Shanley's drama about a liberal priest who may or may not have molested a boy and a conservative nun (Cherry Jones), who may or may not cross the line in dogged pursuit of him. The actor has loved New York since he spent a summer as a teenager doing construction in Brooklyn, soaking up sunshine, spending every cent he earned, and reveling in bars that stay open until 4 a.m. He has lived here since 1990, when an uncle got him a green card so he could pursue his career as an actor.

Posted by kshaw at March 20, 2005 06:26 AM