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A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

This interminable Joycean solo-play is powerfully performed and depicts the life of a troubled Irish girl from birth to age 20, with requisite harshness.

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Aoife Duffin in a scene from in a scene from “A Girl is a Half-formed Thing” (Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)

Aoife Duffin in a scene from in a scene from “A Girl is a Half-formed Thing” (Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

The charismatic award-winning young Irish actress Aoife Duffin gives an intense, spirited and valiant performance in the interminable A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.  It’s an 80-minute solo play about the troubled life of a girl from birth to the age of 20, set in the familiar milieu of harsh existence in Ireland.  A mean mother, an absent father, a sick brother, oppressive Catholicism, sexually roughish young men and earthy incidents abound.

Ms. Duffin portrays the heroine as well as a multitude of characters using a strong Irish accent, expert physical transformations and her strong presence. Barefoot, wearing plaid lounge pants and a blue T-shirt Duffin holds forth on the black walled stage that has a few slits of lights and a floor strewn with earth.  Though she is commanding, the nature of the material ultimately renders her performance and the overall experience of the play as wearying.

She goes from one painful vignette to another while acting a succession of characters often-rapid fire. Due to the obtuse writing, this panorama often lacks clarity.  Not much of it is memorable or makes much impact.

Irish author Eimear McBride struggled for nine years to get her novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing published as numerous publishing firms rejected it.  Following its publication in 2013 when she was 36 years old, the book has since been awarded several prestigious Irish and United Kingdom literary prizes.

The novel’s style is that of stream of consciousness in the first person, written tersely with idiosyncratic punctuation, simulating the thoughts and psyche of a young girl.  Ms. McBride trained as an actress at London’s Drama Centre and has cited James Joyce as an influence on her writing.

Aoife Duffin in a scene from in a scene from “A Girl is a Half-formed Thing” (Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)

Aoife Duffin in a scene from in a scene from “A Girl is a Half-formed Thing” (Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic)

Annie Ryan’s stage adaptation is faithful to this unconventional book’s narrative, structure and tone.  Ms. Ryan’s direction is quite theatrical with its fierce presentation that employs the accomplished efforts of the production team.

The lighting design by Sinéad Wallace is a very striking component of the production with its strategic blend of darkness, brightness and dimness.  Lian Bell’s minimal set design is suitably atmospheric.  The eerie clanging score by Mel Mercier is well modulated and used sparingly to good effect due to his proficient sound design.  Katie Crowley’s costume design is basic and represents the character simply.

The notable experimental Irish theater company The Corn Exchange, in association with Cusack Projects Limited, presents this U.S. and New York City premiere of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing along with the Irish Arts Center and Baryshnikov Art Center.  It previously played to critical acclaim at the 2014 Dublin Theatre Festival, the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in 2016, at The Young Vic in London.

For many though, perhaps the work’s aesthetic qualities would best be enjoyed in its novel form or as an audiobook.  As a stage piece despite the excellence of its acting and technical accomplishments it soon becomes relatively monotonous.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (April 20 – 30, 2016)

Irish Arts Center, Baryshnikov Arts Center, and The Corn Exchange in association with Cusack Projects Limited

Baryshnikov Arts Center, Jerome Robbins Theater, 450 West 37th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (774 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for

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