On Wednesday, July 29, two short but captivating new plays by the acclaimed Irish playwright Conal Creedon opened at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York and will perform though September 20. The Irish Rep, producing more genuinely captivating theater in one season than other venues can do in a decade, is capping another year of hits with this surefire winner.
First up is the American premiere of Creedon’s play After Luke. Set in the heyday of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger boom (which now seems as far away as the Garden of Eden) the play explores classic themes of the era, like the lust for easy money that the Irish property market inspired in so many.
When a prodigal son returns from England, where he has secretly been living hand to mouth for years, he tries to manipulate his own father into selling his property for cash. But a rival brother is dead set against this scheme, and so a conflict ensues with predictably tragic consequences.
Although the subject matter of After Luke is about as serious as can be, this is the work of a skilled Irish writer, and Creedon has managed to make his material as funny as it is personally affecting. With help from the talented cast that features Gary Gregg, Colin Lane and Michael Mellamphy, the first play in the Rep’s new production will make you laugh out loud even as it breaks your heart.
The second play, which also explores the volatile world of Irish fathers and sons, is Creedon’s When I Was God, a hilarious and absurd parable of what happens when a father’s heartbreaking expectations for his son go way too far.
Political, cultural and tribal passions erupt when a fanatical dad insists that his son gives up soccer for hurling. When a fanatical devotion to one man’s ideas of how things should be comes crashing headlong into how things really are, neither side intends to give up without a fight.
Both plays are directed by Irish actor Tim Ruddy, who first came to New York in 2004 when he made his New York debut in the Irish Rep’s acclaimed production of Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come.
Originally from Belmullet, Co. Mayo, Ruddy started his acting career with the Royal Court Youth Theatre in London before attending the Deleon School for Performing Arts in Surrey. Since then the actor has starred in several main stage productions at the Irish Rep and has gained a reputation for cerebral, serious minded performances that have garnered him critical acclaim.
But this month Ruddy is abandoning the lime light to work as a director on the two new Irish plays he feels passionate about and wants to share with a wider American audience, who he feels certain will respond to their universal themes.
“Both of these plays address the tensions and lack of communication that can happen between Irish fathers and sons,” says Ruddy. “There’s emotional depth but there’s also a lot of emotional blockage -- people not saying what they want to say, or even being almost unable to.”
Miscommunication between the generations is overly familiar territory for Irish drama, but there’s a freewheeling absurdity to Creedon’s characters that makes you want to follow their exploits right to the bitter end. Creedon, who is also a novelist and documentary maker, has a sharp eye for the typical failings of the Irish male, and he’s fashioned two plays that will leave you reeling with their ambition and insight.
“I think of both of them as being seriously funny plays,” says Ruddy. “They have a lot to say about themes that Irish audiences will instantly recognize and respond to, you know?
“We’re also running the shows as part of this year's Irish Theatre Festival -- the second all-Irish plays and playwright festival organized by Origin Theatre’s George Heslin. New work by new Irish writers will underline how much talent there is in contemporary Irish writing, so I’m looking forward to bringing these new plays to the Rep’s audience.”
After Luke and When I was God are now playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. For tickets call 212-727-2737.