The Year That Was

Last year reminded us once again that the stories the Irish tell about themselves are almost always better than the ones told about them by others. For one thing, they're usually very much harsher than the soft focus, sentimental tales we have inspired in generations of Hollywood scriptwriters.

For proof of this you need look no further than the Tinseltown gloss that was thrown over Cecelia Ahern's bracingly unsentimental tale P.S. I Love You. Making her debut as a romantic heroine, Academy Award winner Hilary Swank gave her all to a difficult role, but in the end she was upstaged by the floodtide of sentiment that overwhelms the film's final reels. The scenes set in Ireland unfold in the amber light of a beer commercial, and what might have been a simple tale well told was mired in layers of romantic suds.

Irish theater productions both here and in Ireland produced exceptional new plays like The Revenant, a new work by Pat McCabe (author of The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto), which the Druid Theatre Company premiered at the Galway Arts Festival this fall. Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre's production of Irish American author Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited was another provocative night out, creating controversy during its brief run at the Galway fest.

Here in the U.S. the Irish Repertory Theatre's 20th season was artistically one of its strongest ever. Boasting the American premiere of John B. Keane's landmark play Sive, the Irish Rep's stage provided a suitable home for the bravura performace of Fiona Toibin.

Across town at the Irish Arts Center the outstanding play of the year was Marie Jones' Rock Doves, which featured the always remarkable work of actor Marty Maguire. The play was a departure from Jones' usual monlogue form and provided one of the most memorable nights at the theatre in 2007.

In November Pumpgirl, the debut play by Newry native Abbie Spallen at the Manhattan Theatre Club, announced the arrival an important new voice, and for my money it was the best new Irish play of the year.

On Broadway the stagehands strike provided the majority of the drama for Conor McPherson's surprisingly slight - though brilliantly acted - new drama The Seafarer.

Earlier in the year a luminous Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten featured Colm Meaney in an indelible performance. Meanwhile at the Lincoln Center, Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne dazzled audiences in Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia.

The top Irish and Irish American books of 2007 were, in this writer's opinion, Booker Prize winner Ann Enright's The Gathering, Joseph O'Connor's Redemption Falls and Dan Barry's City Lights: Stories About New York. Enright told the Irish Voice, "All writers fantasize about the Booker. But this time I actually am going to the ball."

Last year was not also without it's sorrows. The passing of the irreplaceable Tommy Makem was a sad blow that is only softened by the impressive body of artistic work that has become his legacy.

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