Druid Murphy is an unprecedented triumph
Celebration of Tom Murphy's forty year career looks to the little details of our own lives
Did you ever ask yourself how did every Irish town ended up with at least twenty public houses? Did you ever wonder how the rural landscape from Malin Head to Mizen Head came to be filled with deserted cottages, abandoned workhouses, burial plots, and broken down factories with tiny stone windows that only a crow could squeeze through?
Irish playwright Tom Murphy has. For over forty years he has made a point of gazing directly at what the rest of us have blithely overlooked, transfixed by the little details of our own lives.
It can’t have been easy for him, this lifelong investigation. It must have meant gaining a reputation for asking awkward questions onstage and off, for decades. It inevitably meant relentless challenges to authority, to established social conventions, to agreed history, and at times it must have made him disagreeable too.
Judging from Murphy’s work, which is currently being seen at a triumphant mini-retrospective at the Lincoln Center Festival, it required a level of intellectual courage and commitment that makes the recent work by other Irish dramatists look insipid in comparison.
That’s why it’s thrilling to see Murphy’s plays get the recognition they richly deserve at Druid Murphy, director Garry Hynes’s extraordinary mini-retrospective of three of Murphy’s signature works. Druid Murphy is not just a highlight of my theater-going year; it’s been the highlight of my theatre-going life.
Over the course of his extraordinary career Murphy has explored – and often interrogated - the Irish character or psyche to the root, which he contends was unalterably altered and defined by the famine.
Each of these three brilliant plays help to bolster that contention, and I have never witnessed a more lucid theatrical exploration of the Irish experience on any stage.
In Conversations On A Homecoming, the first play in the all-day cycle of three shows, a group of old friends gather’s in their local pub to welcome home their pal Michael, who has been living in New York where he’s been trying to start a career as an actor.
After a little bar table banter it becomes clear that Michael’s former best friend Tom will be taking the opportunity to settle old scores, but as he tears at his old friend his bravado gets stripped away and we see what’s really eating at him, he’s brokenhearted over having been left behind.
Rootlessness, longing, homesickness, uncertainty, the whole familiar catechism of the Irish emigrants experience is under the microscope here but Murphy abhors cheap sentimentality or easy summations. Longing shapes every scene in this searingly beautiful play, in particular the longing for a deeper connection, for a bit of love and peace, and that simple human desire becomes a universal one in Murphy’s endlessly absorbing play.
In A Whistle In The Dark we meet the Carney family, a proud traveler family from County Mayo who are locked in a pointless blood feud with another traveler clan. Through this simple prism Murphy conjures every damaged and damaging Irish patriarch whilst exploring their painful legacies.
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