Has the penny finally dropped? This week Irish playwright Gary Duggan’s play Dedalus Lounge, which is set in Dublin over the course of one wild Christmas, will open on Thursday, January 12 with three of the most talented Broadway actors in the starring roles.
It’s about time this gifted young writer got a production of this quality, and here’s hoping that it will bring his work to the attention of the most influential critics here who have been far too slow to recognize his talent.
Duggan’s urban, fast-paced plays may have proved difficult for some American critics to appreciate since they’re generally set in modern Ireland, rather than in picturesque west of Ireland cabins they’re over familiar with.
In other words, they present major challenges to critical impressions of Ireland that have generally been formed by the 19th century Irish Literary Revival.
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It’s not controversial to say, that and unfortunatly it’s also not untrue. Critics here have consistently elevated new Irish plays that look and sound as though they could have been written 50 years ago over plays like Duggan’s that disrupt a misplaced nostalgia for a long vanished world.
In overlooking the modern in favor of the familiar, critics have also done theater-going audiences here a disservice, because in refusing to educate themselves they have overlooked a cultural goldmine.
Duggan’s work consistently presents some of the most striking portraits of modern Ireland seen anywhere, and it’s about time he received the credit that deserves.
Forget Eamon de Valera’s comely maidens dancing at the crossroads. In Duggan’s world, desperation, casual sex, bereavement, shoplifting, bisexuality and rampant disloyalty are the order of the day -- in particular in his new production of Dedalus Lounge, a play he wrote five years ago.
“It’s a dark comedy about an Irish Christmas,” Duggan tells the Irish Voice. “Three friends meet in a bar in Dublin, they haven’t seen each other in a long while and they’re catching up. It’s about friendship too.”
But this is a Duggan play, which means the dialogue is briskly paced, the scenes themselves are highly theatrical, and you’re watching a playwright who knows how to craft the whole thing together seamlessly.
“My impression of Ireland and Dublin in particular is what I’ve experienced and grown up with in the last 10 or 15 years,” explains Duggan.
“It’s become a very international, cosmopoliltan city and my plays reflect that. They’re very Irish in terms of their character and humor, but they may feel a lot more contemporary.
“Yes, we have great plays about our past and yes, we have a strong connection to our history, but they’re a real part of contemporary Ireland that hasn’t often been seen by American audiences. I’m interested in that.”
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Since Dedalus Lounge is set in Dublin, the play centers on Danny (Rent’s Anthony Rapp), Delphine (Wicked’s Dee Roscioli) and Daragh (James Kautz), and all three talented American actors will have a job learning how to move and sound like native Dubliners. But that’s something that Duggan takes in his stride.
“Anthony is quite well known from his starring role in Rent already. James Kautz is a member of the theater company called the Immoralists and they have a bit of a following too, and then Dee has starred in Wicked on Broadway. It’s a high profile Broadway cast,” Duggan feels.
People who are fans of the three actors’ work will come to Duggan’s play not really knowing what to expect and they may be surprised and shocked, says Duggan -- and hopefully entertained.
“They may leave with quite a different impression of Ireland,” he adds with a laugh.
There’s always scope for great music in a Duggan play too because since the start of his career he seems obsessed by it, but in Dedalus Lounge Rapp’s character is obsessed with Freddy Mercury, and he wants to be in a Queen tribute band.
“Anthony suggested writing original music for the play and that worked out pretty amazingly,” says Duggan.
“There are three new songs now as part of the production. In the play it’s part of Danny’s fantasy life, but it’s not at all light stuff – it goes to particularly dark places.”
Working with an exclusively American cast playing Irish roles (very well, as it turns out) has made the show a strange hybrid, Duggan says.
“It’s very Irish in terms of its language, but there’s a universality to it too because it’s about three friends in the city having a rough Christmas and you could relate to that in America or anywhere,” says Duggan.
Dedalus Lounge is now through January 30 at the Interart Theatre Annex, 500 West 52nd Street, New York. Call 1-800-838-3006.