Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

Theatre Review by David Hurst - November 18, 2021

Jenn Murray
Photo by Carol Rosegg
On the one hand, asking audiences to sit through Eimear McBride's lacerating A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing at the Irish Repertory Theatre's W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage during this festive holiday season seems like cruel and unusual punishment. On the other hand, perhaps its grim exploration of an Irish girl's moral and psychic collapse is just what Santa Claus ordered. But be warned! Open this gift-wrapped package of sexual awakening at your own peril. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is most definitely not for the faint of heart.

When it was finally published in 2014 after a long gestation period, McBride's novel won a slew of literary awards for its blazing originality and wince-inducing intimacy. It follows the inner narrative of an unnamed Girl from birth to the age of twenty, telling the harrowing story of her family, their soul-twisting Catholicism, and the despair of an Irish childhood lived in poverty. Adapted for the stage in 2016 as a one-woman monologue by Annie Ryan, the Irish Rep's staging stars the luminous Jenn Murray (films Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Brooklyn) and is directed with subtle economy by Nicola Murphy.

In addition to its truly harrowing subject matter, the Herculean task facing the hardworking Murray and her director is the clear and recognizable delineation of the multitude of characters who appear in A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. In this 80-minute, intermission-less monologue, you may be struggling to identify who's speaking, even after 20 to 30 minutes have elapsed. And that becomes a problem as it's often frustrating keeping track of who's who.

Initially, with its absent father, cruel mother, and an abusive uncle, McBride's tale threatens to turn into another Irish cliché. But in Murray's persuasive hands, it quickly becomes a story of surviving trauma, both sexual and emotional, and overcoming abuse, both physical and mental. It's also a love story, of sorts, between the Girl and her brother, who's battling a brain tumor which makes him an object of ridicule. The Girl becomes his fiercest protector, even as she's struggling to harness the power her newfound sexuality brings. And what says "seasons greetings" like an enigmatic young woman struggling to empower herself to overcome a grim struggle for her sanity?

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing
Through December 12, 2021
Irish Repertory Theatre's W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage, 132 West 22nd Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: