New York’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival is six years old next month, when it returns to various stages across the city to stake its claim as not just America’s but the world’s best showcase of new Irish playwriting talent.
Throughout the month of September 1st Irish will present the works of no less than 19 different Irish theatres, film and poetry makers featuring names already well known to the community here in New York.
Cork born playwright and novelist Conal Creedon’s close relationship with the festival began with a staging of his award winning play When I Was God in 2008, then continued in 2009 when it and After Luke were presented in tandem at The Irish Repertory Theatre (winning the best director award for Tim Ruddy).
This year Creedon’s play The Cure, the final part of his Second City Trilogy, will be staged with gifted pair Michael Mellamphy performing and Ruddy once again directing. In his years with the festival Mellamphy has demonstrated a rare virtuosity, emerging as one of the most instinctive and thoughtful actors I have seen in an Irish play.
Mellamphy makes it his business to inhabit the reality of his character from the inside out and Ruddy knows how to anchor his performances to the time and place in which the play’s set, so expect fireworks.
The Cure is their one-man play set just at the high point of the Celtic Tiger boom but its haunted at the edges by the ghost of a long ago Christian Brother tormentor that has marked our narrator’s life.
Here’s a man with a drought inside him to match the emotional wasteland he’s making of his life. In search of the cure at the bottom of a pint glass he’s forced to finally recognize that it’s a fraud. “When the chemistry goes in a relationship,” he tells us, commenting on the state of his broken marriage, “There’s nothing for it but to take more chemicals.”
Our narrator has just spent the last three days drinking away his annual Christmas bonus while his wife and children wait anxiously at home. The only thing to keep the guilt away is the booze. But as this ruefully funny play reminds us, the steeper cost lies in cowering before rather than confronting your worst fears.
Another highlight of the forthcoming festival is new playwright Ross Dungan’s The Life And Death Of Eric Argyle, a fiercely funny new work fresh from its sell-out tour of London, Edinburgh and Dublin. Presented by the award winning Irish theatre company 15th Oak. The show is about what happens once you kick the bucket. After being hit by a car aged 58, poor mister Argyle is startled to find himself in purgatory.
It gets worse. Soon he is forced to witness episodes from his relatively short life, and it’s up to us the audience to pass judgment on him. Along the way you can get to marvel at the skillful theatricality of this flawless production and the lively and often effortlessly moving script.
Yet another accomplished production follows with I Can See Clearly Now, new playwright Sonya Kelly’ story of her long undiagnosed childhood shortsightedness. In a by turns poignant and shoulder shakingly hilarious play, Kelly recalls how her family thought she was a particularly affectionate child when in fact her because of her eye trouble it was her only way of telling who they were.
In the classroom other children were much less enamored of being studied so closely and Kelly’s problems only began to find a resolution when a school nurse discovered she was practically blind at the age of 7.
Always a provocative mix of American and Irish productions, this year’s series also includes Marianne Driscoll’s McGoldrick’s Thread, a touching about Irish immigrants in the Bronx.
Originally hailing from Clonmel, County Tipperary in Ireland, these days the family have settled into in a small apartment in the Bronx to raise their five children. We learn that the youngest and only daughter Magee is a competitive Irish Step dancer with a big feis (festival) ahead of her in the morning. The play unfolds as a journey leading Magee to believe in herself and in her quest to make her dreams come true, both in dance and in life.
Now if you’re the sort who believes that we’re living in a ghastly new age of coarseness and stupidity have I got a play for you. Dan McCormick’s The Morons arrives right on time to skewer our celebrity-obsessed culture and the faux reality spectacles that nightly pollute our TV screens.
There was a time when you needed talent to become a successful artist. Nowadays you just need a sex tape and the inability to ever blush. It’s an era ripe for satire and McCormick surpasses himself in this highly relevant and hilarious new show.
Other highlights from the festival include Dublin playwright Anto Nolan’s bracing bit of truth telling in A Lady Is Waiting, starring Fiana Toibin. Toibin is the daughter of the legendary Dublin actor and raconteur Niall and she’s adept at finding the heroic in the everyday in a way that makes this show one of the hottest tickets.
The Compass Rose by Ronan Noone is set in a pub and will be performed in one too (Ryan’s Daughter, as it happens). Tiffany and Irish bartender Donal have intertwined pasts and mixed feelings for each other too. When they meet up again a decade after parting, they realize that their journey may be far from over. Noone writes nimbly about what matters most, love and what it makes of us.
Other sure to be sell out events include Journey’s End, a documentary film that follows former US Senator George Mitchell as he returns to Northern Ireland with his 14-year-old son Andrew to discover how life has changed for people there since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Mitchell narrates and will later be present for a question and answer session with National Book Award winner Colum McCann that will moderated by Loretta Brennan Glucksman.
Another 1st Irish special event will be Belfast To Boston, an unmissable discussion on Irish and Irish American heritage by two celebrated Irish authors who’ll discuss their experiences growing up in Southie and in the glare of the Northern Irish conflict.
Colin Broderick and Michael Patrick grew up world’s apart but unmistakably Irish, and in their join night of truth telling at The American Irish Historical Society they’ll lay out what they’ve discovered on their journeys.
Maeve Brennan was the brilliant and beautiful young Irish woman who blazed a trial here in the 1950’s and 60’s as a short story writer and frequent contributor to the The New Yorker. Some claim the stylish young Irish woman was the inspiration for Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
Next month you’ll be able to follow in her footsteps on a guided tour of Greenwich Village, the place that inspired so many of her stories in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” section. This tour, full of fun readings and historical anecdotes, starts in Washington Square Park and ends with a taste of her much-loved martinis. Along the way you’ll restore one of Ireland’s gifted daughters to her rightful place among the city’s most admired essayists. For a complete list of 1st Irish events visit www.1stirish.org.