In "Jailbait", Irish American playwright Deirdre O’Connor, 32, explores what happens when two 15-year-old girls who are desperate to be adults meet two 30-year-old men desperate to be 15 again.
Although O’Connor’s hilarious and unexpectedly moving coming of age play has a distinctly come-on title, it doesn’t hint at how sensitive and funny the work itself really is.
“To a certain extent it’s a coming of age story,” O Connor tells IrishCentral. “It’s about two girls who are 15 years old and who dress up as if they are older. They go to a Boston club where they meet two men who are in their thirties, and the two men are really trying to recapture their youth. It’s really about how these four people meet in the middle and it becomes a sort of coming of age story for all four of them.”
O’Connor, who is now in her early thirties, believes that America’s longstanding obsession with youth is only intensifying.
“We seem to be at a time in our society where we really value youth and being in your early twenties, and everyone around us is really trying to look like that and dress like that and act like that. In 'Jailbait' I’m trying to examine where is the place for adulthood in all of that?”
A recent graduate of Columbia University’s play-writing program, O’Connor is Irish on both sides of her family tree.
“I grew up in Newtown, Massachusetts, which is just outside of Boston. My father always felt very connected to our Irish ancestry and so he wanted us all to have Irish names. My sisters are named Maeve and Kaitlin, I have a brother called Neil and I’m Deirdre, the youngest of the four. My great grandparents came from Ireland to Boston and my family has been living there ever since.”
A typical display of Irish pride growing up was when O’Connor’s father dressed the girls up in Aran sweaters and put bright green ribbons in their hair for St. Patrick’s Day.
“My dad is just very invested in our Irish background. Ireland’s literary tradition is immensely important to us all too. When my great grandmother came over from Ireland she was 18, and although she had no money she did bring a woolen shawl, a pair of candlesticks and volume of the works of Charles Dickens.
“That’s the story that’s told in our family. Who knows if that’s true, but I really love the idea of it. It means that even at a time when my family had nothing we still had a love of and a connection to literature.”
O’Connor cherishes her Irish great grandmother’s story because it connects directly to where she is now as a playwright.
“My great grandmother loved the same things I do, like well told stories, and the great writers, and now she exists as a story in my life too, you know?”
O’Connor has yet to visit Ireland (“I’m a starving artist!”) but she has ambitious plans. “I still have family there so it’s been my intention to go. I would love to go with a play. That would be my goal, and that way I’d get to spend some time over there.
For O’Connor, her proud Irish ancestry can best be seen in the importance that both she and her family place on story telling, a skill she has easily inherited.
“The ability to tell a great funny story is a valued skill with us. Years ago I originally started off writing very depressing poetry and terrible short fiction,” she says.
“But when I got to college I started writing plays because I discovered that I really love writing dialogue. It just fascinates me. It taps into the Irish love of conversation and the flow of language.
“It’s the opposite of fiction too because you can really revel in the way that people are inarticulate. People who are completely inarticulate can often say more when they finally find the right word. That’s what happens to the girls in "Jailbait", they finally find their voices.”
"Jailbait" is now playing off-Broadway at the Cherry Pit, 155 Bank Street, New York. For tickets call 212-868-4444.