BRENDAN BEHAN: CONFESSIONS OF AN IRISH REBEL, at the Mercury Theater. Shay Duffin’s one-man tribute to Brendan Behan–housepainter, poet, playwright, protester–is a toast to a terrific talker. “Too young to die but too drunk to live,” as the Daily Mail said, Behan was killed by liver disease in 1964, at age 41. But Behan was lit by more than liquor: the Rabelaisian rebel gave the stage The Hostage and The Quare Fellow and nonfiction readers Borstal Boy, the harrowing tale of abuse in an unreformed reform school.

Gargling his Guinness with impish zest, Duffin regales us with tales of growing up in a tenement so poor the doors were stolen for kindling. He tells of pimping and peddling porn in Paris and running weapons for the IRA as a teenager. Fittingly, Duffin’s Behan acknowledges his debt to earlier “giants of Irish literature”–Yeats, Wilde, O’Casey, Joyce–and recaptures their common roots by crooning traditional ballads and sardonic songs. By the end, puffing with pain, Duffin appears as sodden and sozzled as Behan at his liquid last. It’s an ending so bleak that, to break the spell, Duffin returns to answer questions from the audience. (Yes, he’s wearing Behan’s shoes, and yes, the last time Duffin saw Behan he was staggering from a Dublin bar into the all too symbolic darkness.)

Like the late Chris O’Neill, whose Frankly Brendan depicted an even rougher, rawer man, Duffin has performed this portrait most of his life. I saw it two decades ago at the Apollo; it’s equally fresh and fierce today. –Lawrence Bommer