Once in a while a new Irish playwright comes along with the talent to surprise you with the freshness and originality of their work. Last September at Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival that distinction belonged to Laoisa Sexton, the New York-based Irish actress who wrote and starred in For Love, a brilliantly funny new play about the thorny pursuit of love in Dublin that delighted audiences with its raw wit.
On the surface it’s a play about the delicate and often deceitful dance between men and women, but underneath it’s a big-hearted ode to female friendship that’s unlike anything I’ve seen on an Irish stage in years.
Sexton’s straight from Irish life language, her preoccupation with how sex can reveal our deeper nature, and her awareness that a moment of well timed humor can defuse almost any situation, marks her out as a new star of the Irish theater, and is a welcome rejoinder to the increasingly almost all-male world of Irish highly produced playwriting.
But as the song says, it’s different for girls, and although Sexton’s For Love was one of the sell-out hits of the 1st Irish Festival (she won the festival’s Best Actress Award, and her castmate Jo Kinsella won the Achievement Award) in the short term it’s proving more difficult to attract the kind of producing assistance that will take this standout show on the road.
But Sexton is undaunted. Currently starring in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, she’s determined to bring For Love (and its stellar cast, which includes Derry boxing star John Duddy) to Ireland, where it’s certain to find an appreciative audience when it commences a short tour.
The trick is getting the cast there on theater budgets. “Friends mentioned that Derry is this year’s City of Culture and they suggested that For Love might be a good fit for it. It all came together very fast,” she told the Irish Voice.
“Then we got scheduled in the Grand Opera House in Belfast too. Then Dublin came on board and programmed us too. So we have accommodation and marketing and technical support for the show.”
What Sexton and her cast of four have to raise now is their own salaries or airfares or travel. Because they’re Irish theater makers based in New York rather than Dublin, they’ve discovered they can’t avail of any support from the main Irish cultural agencies. This seems more than a little unimaginative, frankly, given how many of us are still deeply connected to the country and culture of our birth.
“There’s a huge and thriving scene of Irish actors, directors and theater makers here in New York, but there’s nothing for us from the Irish side of the question. We’re coming to Ireland with an Irish play and you’d think there’d be some level of support for this,” Sexton says.
But Sexton and her cast won’t be waiting for things to change however.
“You can’t be an actor these days without doing other things. Which includes finding work for yourself or making work for yourself. I’d rather get something done,” she says.
An online campaign to raise funds for the Irish tour has seen admirers and friends contribute whatever they can afford. Another fundraising idea will involve a Blind Date night at the Irish Center in Long Island City on February 8.
“I’m an actor first and I’m always looking for good scripts to do. I was reading this book about the Irish theater and someone in it said when you’re sitting in Bewley’s café and you see two grannies having a fight it isn’t theatre. I strongly disagree,” Sexton says.
“I wanted to write something that looked like what happens when you’re out with your mates and you see something that makes you say oh my God if this was a film no one would believe it.”
Blind date tickets are $25 at the door with an open cocktail hour from 7-8 p.m. To nominate a contestant or participate call Jane McCarter at 718-482-0909 or email at [email protected].
To make a contribution to the For Love tour visit www.indiegogo.com/FORLOVEtheplaytour.