The Ferryman/Torch Song: Young Actor on the Rise, Jack DiFalco
By: Ellis Nassour
May 15, 2019: Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman is one of the most acclaimed plays of this or any season. In its London West End debut, the sprawling family drama won numerous awards, including the coveted Olivier for Best Play and director Sam Mendes. In its Broadway transfer, playing at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre at least into July, the play has over 25 Best Play picks and a New York Times’ Critics Pick. It has received 2019 Tony nominations for Best Play and Director. Mendes is an Oscar and Tony winner—Best Picture, American Beauty; 1998 revival, Cabaret. Butterworth was Tony-nominated in 2011 for Best Play for Jerusalem, his Broadway playwriting debut, which starred Tony winner Mark Rylance. Barring an extension, The Ferryman is set to close July 7.
Brian d’Arcy James leads the American cast as Quinn, the head of the large Carney farmhouse. The setting is rural County Armagh, Northern Ireland, 1981, where preparations are being made for the annual harvest of 50 acres of wheat and barley and the feasting that will follow. There’s laughter, song, and dance—and the killing of a goose for the feast that lies ahead.
The out-sized family—a cast of 21, a rarity for a play—includes an assembly of relatives, an English friend, adopted by the family, who’s been holding back a secret; a long-trusted priest; and friends from far and near who arrive to help. However, this year they’ll be interrupted by an unwanted visitor. A sense of foreboding sets in due to the vengeance-obsessed conflict between Britain and Iron Lady Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the IRA as imprisoned activists die of hunger strikes. The discovery of Quinn’s brutally-murdered brother creates a chain of events which races to a fierce, intensely gripping, and shattering climax.
Among the assembly of gifted young actors is handsome, versatile-to-say-the-least Jack DiFalco, giving a jolting performance as Shane Corcoran, a roughhewn Irish lad with swagger who can’t wait to join the IRA.
Immediately prior to landing the role, in January 2017, after appearances in regional theater, film, and TV, he appeared as Hench and Bobbie Off Broadway at MCC’s Lortel Theatre, opposite Lucas Hedges, in Anna Jordan’s Yen, directed by Trip Cullman (Choir Boy). That June, made his Broadway debut as the mentally-challenged son Hank in Roundabout’s revival of Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room, directed by Anne Kaufman. In September, he co-starred in Harvey Feierstein’s Torch Song at Second Stage, directed by two-time Tony nominee Moisés Kaufman, as the scene-stealing high-schooler David, the newly-adopted son of Michael Urie’s Arnold. The production moved to Second Stage’s Broadway house, the Helen Hayes, last November.
“This season, what I did in 2017 and 2018, and now being back on Broadway again has been a remarkable journey,” DiFalco, 23, states. “Four memorable roles in less than three years have been an incredible gift.”
Even without the list of TV roles and indie films, which includes a featured role opposite Nicole Kidman [as his mother] in the September release The Goldfinch, based on Donna Tartt’s best-selling 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction novel, it’s quite evident why casting directors consider Jack as a real Jack-of-all-trades.
He’s a native of Stormville in Dutchess County, New York, the younger of two sons. His dad was a salesman; his mother worked at a motorcycle dealership. He had no ambition to continue on to college or study acting after high school graduation. It was at the latter, starting in the fifth grade, that he began to hone his craft “acting in plays after my father’s death because I needed an outlet.” He began going to auditions, and soon acquired an agent. He was repeatedly told, “You can’t make it. It’s a tough business.” He persisted, not necessarily, he says, “to prove them wrong but to prove my instincts right.”
When asked if he was a good kid, DiFalco replied, “That’s debatable. I got into my fair amount of trouble but I always had theater to come back to. I rode motorcycles, even racing motorcross [off road racing]. I was a huge James Dean fan and set out to emulate him, but theater was my rock. It helped me than anything to cope. The appeal was being able to be somebody else, to put all the anger, frustration, and curiosity, and imagination onto a stage before a couple of hundred or couple of thousand people. It was where I could express myself.” And be noticed. “Not especially. My goal was never to be famous. In high school, I was always in the ensemble. I never got a lead. I just wanted to keep working in projects I believe in.” He did musicals in school, but, except for being cast in a workshop, he’s yet to do a singing role. However, he points out, “There’s singing and dancing in The Ferryman.”
He was cast as Graffiti Pete in the Trinity Players (Poughkeepsie) 2013 production of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes’ In the Heights where he proved to be a high-energy dancer.In 2014, at the Rhinebeck Center for the Performing Arts, he impressed as a soldier on trail in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men. He admits, “I didn’t think I’d be working so quickly.”
He made his professional theatrical debut six months later “as Roger, the guy who kills everybody” in Denver Performing Arts Center’s production of Nigel Williams’ adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the story of a group of English lads stranded on a deserted island and their savage games to gain power. “It was a blast! I love playing dark characters.”
Returning to New York, he continued in a dark mode Off Broadway as butterfly-addicted Darren in New Group’s revival of Philip Ridley’s controversial, much-revised cult drama Mercury Fur, which is set in London’s East End, ’“a ravaged, lawless dystopia where there’s nothing left to live for — fantasies of death are the best currency.”
Torch Song was an intimate, poignant family drama. Audiences weren’t prepared for the way DiFalco bopped right in and immediately commanded the stage, especially in that suit that was a couple of sizes too big. “There were six of us, seven if you include Harvey, and right from the get-go we bonded. We spent a lot of time together on and offstage. I was doing Marvin’s Room when I was called in to meet Harvey and Michael Urie. Ididn’t know who Michael was. I wasn’t told it was going to be a ‘chem-read’ to see if there was chemistry between us. Evidently, we clicked because I got the part. I felt better on the first day of rehearsal. Michael came up to me and said, ‘Nice to meet you.’ I told him we met at my audition. He said, ‘You’re that guy!’ I replied, ‘Yes.’ So he didn’t know who I was either.”
DiFalco is one of playwright Jez Butterworth biggest fans. “Acting in The Ferryman is a privilege. It’s one of those epics where you wonder to yourself how it’s never been done. Our director [Sam Mendes], our choreographer, stage managers, and the cast are world-class. When you put 22 people onstage at the same time and they’re all pulling their weight, you walk away with something great. What a joy it is to be doing something you love with people you regard as family and getting paid for it.”
His draw to the role of Shane was how “Jez wrote him almost as a villain. However, when I considered where he grew up and the time period, it was completely understandable how he turned out as this cocky rebel. He has strong believes in how the world should be moving. He’s got an alcoholic father and has fallen into an older brother situation where he has to care for his family. That, and being afraid of what you say and how you say it, how you might be sodomized on the street by the enemy, or your home is going to be raided and you and your family might be arrested for doing nothing other than believing what you do.”
The Ferryman’s Act One is rather short. “Everyone is excited about the harvest and it’s festive as we all look forward to the goose for dinner,” states DiFalco, “but then that person arrives in the doorway and, boom, in the second act everything shifts to high drama. I love observing audiences at the end of the play. Some are so stunned, they can’t get up. Those that can stand there, unsure of what they’ve experienced. It’s a chilling spectacle.”