Review: Barney Carey Gets His Wings by Scottish Rite Theater
by Michael Meigs

Children's theatre—well performed, as Austin's Scottish Rite Theatre does—is magic. The young person's world of play and imagination is lit by a play crafted with imagination. One sure, snug adult pleasure is to sit close to the stage, the actors and musicians, and the very young in the audience with their family members. There's very little suspension of disbelief, for there's a lot of wide-eyed, appreciative, open belief. Magic and enchantments are immediately accepted, as are gentle lessons subtly taught.


Griffen McDonald, Robert Deike (SRA photo)


Griffen McDonald (SRT photo)Barney is seven years old and loves the idea of flying. He bursts into the garage where his dad's fixing a bike. Barney races and zooms in pretend flight, distracting his pa from the finicky repair. They're comfortable together and happy; for one thing, Mom is away on a helping mission connected to an upcoming birth, so they have father-and-son time together. Griffen McDonald as Barney is full of enthusiasm and immediately wins the empathy of the young audience. Robert Deike as Barney's father is responsive, task-oriented, and a University of Texas football enthusiast (no wonder the kids feel at ease with his character!). While Dad's away from the garage, Barney explores the contents of an old trunk and comes up with a treasure: a shimmering set of wings.


That's a fine opportunity for a  boy who wants to fly! We enjoy Barney's delight at this shiny, magical discovery . . . until Dad returns and is taken aback. Uh . . . well, boys don't wear airy fairy wings, do they? When Barney asks with guileless candor, "Who made up that rule?" the two begin to work on that sociological inquiry. They don't get very far. When Dad steps out again, Barney goes back to that trunk of mysteries and is properly astonished—by a cheery, saucy bearded lady who pops up like a fairy godmother!


Griffen McDonald, Kellee Fuller (SRT photo)


Playwright Brendan Murray creates a bright but deep pool around which these characters soar enthusiastically. It's deep because we adults sense how packed it is with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; it's bright because Agnes the wise-cracking magic visitor is friendly and in no wise resentful—she's like a warmly reassuring aunt Barney never knew he had. The children buy into Agnes immediately, especially for her humor and enthusiasm. Some of the textually minded adults may be wondering: okay, Dad related that as a child he'd proudly possessed those wings until his own father had shamed him for wearing them. But was Agnes the bearded lady somehow cooped up in that same trunk of embarrassment? Where did she come from? It's a minor point, a logic quibble posed to a script that celebrates magical thinking as a way of understanding and resolving one's own feelings.


The lesson both for Dad and for Barney closely resembles points raised last Sunday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Austin by a teaching seminarian: when meeting unexpected strong resistence, it's best to refrain from reacting instinctively and reflect instead, so as to consider the issue together with curiosity, generosity, and love. Result for this father and son: male bonding goes both ways. They happily depart for the UT football game, accoutred with burnt orange gear—and both of them wearing shimmering "airy fairy" wings! (I'm not sure where the second set came from, but I suspect that benevolent bearded Agnes may have had something to do with it.)


(photo via SRT)


When the play premiered at Barnstorm Theatre in Kilkenny, Ireland, playwright Murray told how the idea came to him: 


About fifteen years ago I met some children (they were about seven years old) in a school in New York and I asked them to draw pictures of what they wanted to be when they grew up. One of the boys, called Philip, loved dancing and he drew a picture of a ballerina. I kept all the pictures (and I still have them) and I used to wonder what happened to the children, and to Philip, in particular. A couple of years ago I discovered he had become a professional ballet dancer and that he was working for a company in which male dancers dress as ballerinas to make people laugh; his dream had come true! So, that was one inspiration. I was also thinking about why people don’t like those who are different from themselves. There have been times when I’ve found myself out of step with those around me and it can be frightening but I want to say: ‘It’s OK to be different!’


After that happy conclusion, young audience members quickly lined up to pose with cast members on the apron of the intimate Scottish Rite Theatre. Cast members asked their names, joked with them, and autographed the program. Few youngsters were reluctant or too intimidated to mix with that twenty-something seven-year-old, the dad figure, or the cheerful lady (now sans beard), and many were elated by their first live theatre experience.



Click HERE to view the Scottish RIte Theatre program for Barney Carey Gets His Wings


Barney Carey Gets His Wings
by Brendan Murray
Scottish Rite Theater

February 17 - March 10, 2024
Scottish Rite Theater
207 West 18th Street
Austin, TX, 78701


  • February 17 – March 10, 2024

  • Saturdays & Sundays at 11 am & 1 pm

  • Written by Brendan Murray

Buy Tickets Now!