New York's First Irish Theatre Festival returns - celebrating Irish playwrights

Cirque Legume at this years First Irish Theatre Festival
New York’s groundbreaking First Irish Theatre Festival is still the only theater festival in the world that's dedicated entirely to Irish playwrights.

It's continuing success is thanks to the tireless efforts of its visionary founder George Heslin - the Limerick born actor and director who keeps this international festival running (at times single handedly).

Now in its third year, the festival is an annual celebration of the best of Irish theatre, helmed by Heslin’s own Origin Theatre Company. From September through early October, the festival will offer a compelling lineup of exciting new Irish plays staged at fifteen major venues throughout the city.

Alongside the new plays, there will also be lively panel discussions, special events and Irish culture-related performances and lectures across the city. And as ever with this innovative festival, among the plays being presented are six North American premieres and one New York premiere.

In recent years Ireland's successive governments have finally understood that Ireland's arts and culture, from Brian Friel to Riverdance, from The Script to U2, are the one thing that allows the country to hit far above its weight on the world's stage. We're an opinionated lot, and the world keeps giving us a bigger audience. That means bucks. This year the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has also decided to promote the country with new funding for the festival that shows Ireland in its best light.

“We’re the gateway to America for Irish playwrights writing about different issues,” Heslin tells the Irish Voice. “It’s the world's capital of theatre and we’re introducing new voices, and the next generation of Irish theatre makers. For Irish playwrights and actors, America is their dream if they’re aspiring to the heights.”

“It's he diversity of voices,” adds festival promoter Beck Lee. “For such a small country there is a remarkable diversity of backgrounds, attitudes and voices in play. New Yorkers find that completely fascinating.”

The stories the Irish tell have a unique power and this is something theatre audiences have known for decades – for centuries, in fact. In the play Temporal Powers for example, by the long neglected but now rediscovered Irish master playwright Teresa Deevy, we watch a great love straining under the weight of conflicting passions.

In the play, currently on stage at The Mint Theatre, young lovers Michel and Min are stone-broke and homeless, but the greatest threat their marriage ever faces comes when they stumble upon hidden treasure in an old ruin. Min sees a chance to start a new life; but Michael fears it’s stolen and he wants to do the right thing. What happens next turns their lives upside down.

Then, in a typical complete gear change for this remarkable festival, comes Belfast's Brassneck Theatre Company's A Night With George. A jet black comedy that opens September 5 at Times Square Arts Center, we follow Bridie Murphy (in the company of George Clooney) on the journey of her life over the course of one evening. There are terrible lows and hilarious highs and a gorgeous redemptive note as this crowd-pleaser of a show takes to the boards.

If you live in New York City then you may think you have seen it all. You have not. Buy a ticket to Cirque De Legume for 50 minutes of sheer insanity and complete carnage as two Irish performers introduce you to a circus of vegetables. This show, which opens September 6 at 59 East 59 Theatres, was the hit of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and you're going to know why in the first five minutes.

The Irish Arts center will stage Deirdre Kinahan's latest play Bogboy beginning September 7, and demand for tickets will be high. The play centers around heroin addict Brigit meets farmer Hughie Dolan she entertains dreams of a happier future for the first time in years.
But nothing is what it seems and a play of deceit and murder unfolds.

The award winning Dublin Theatre company Fishamble will stage Noah and the Tower Flower beginning September 7 at The Drilling Company Theatre. A play about a bought but tender relationship between a high rise Ballymun flat girl and the equally highly strung man who adores her, it's a portrait of urban Ireland a million miles from the tourist board posters, featuring the remarkable Dublin actress Mary Murray.

Another completely fascinating new show is Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, a new play written and directed by theatrical visionary and Mabou Mines director Sharon Fogarty.

Based on the life of James Joyce's troubled daughter Lucia, the play takes us into the dream world of her father's creations as she grapples with his legacy and his fame.

For more festival information and to learn how audience members can pick the Audience Choice Award for Best Play, visit www.1stIrish.org.

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