“There was a fight going on in the 1920s about what the character of the new Irish Free State was going to be,” says Hynes. “Unfortunately for O’Casey’s the spat over his play fed directly into that.”
Yeats and every other public figure of that era were in a battle, consciously and unconsciously, over who would tell the story of the state, over who was going to determine it’s character and nature.
Yeats most certainly had a dog in that race and so he said no. It’s a play in itself, that struggle between the two great writers.
“We know that they met again a number of years later and Yeats allowed a production to go ahead in 1935. But by that stage the more conservative powers that be had their hands around the neck of the country,” says Hynes.
“There was a riot over the play’s blasphemy. It closed very quickly. Ireland was already a very different place in 1935 than it had been in 1928. All the turmoil and ferment was over and O’Casey was pressed into a place he was not going to come back from. He had missed his opportunity. Now along comes Hynes to restore his contribution, but this time to acclaim.
“One of the actors asked me when we were rehearsing, ‘My God, what was the man on when he wrote this?’ I’m amazed by the passion and the power of this play. The challenges it presents to the audience are immense.
“Directing it I kept asking myself what would have happened if this play had been produced in circumstances where O’Casey had felt safe and supported? I don’t know what changes he might have made.
“I could spend the next three years doing a study of this play and exploring the circumstances of its production and writing and try to imagine where O’Casey might have gone with it. It’s fascinating.”
Although The Silver Tassie addresses the horrors of war, it does have some pointed things to say about the Irish too. For example, Harry the soldier we follow through most of the action discovers his mother and his neighbors and all the people in the tenement want to send their boys back to the trenches so that they can continue to receive maintenance money from the state. So much for guts and glory.
“O’Casey was lost to Ireland,” says Hynes, underlining that it was a tragedy the nation would take decades to recover from. In his place came a general conservative philistinism, especially evident on the Abbey’s stage.
“Would he have been lost anyway? Quite possibly. The defensiveness of the Abbey board, their pseudo naturalism that become enshrined with their kitchen comedies of the 1930s and 1940s -- would that have had less of a hold if they’d kept their nerve and continued to support a great writer who had done so much for them, it’s hard to say. But definitely something was lost.”
On Sunday you’ll have the rare chance to see Hynes and Druid restore O’Casey’s remarkable legacy in a production that’s worthy of the play and the playwright. Don’t miss it.
For tickets visit www.lincolncenterfestival.org/index.php/lcf-2011-silver-tassie