The Irish Repertory Theatre has become the most celebrated off Broadway theater in the city thanks to a combination of the quality of its productions, its acting and directing talent and the world class Irish plays it stages.

But even for a company this critically acclaimed, the forthcoming world premiere of Transport, with a book by world-renowned author Thomas Keneally (author of Schindler’s List, the on which the Oscar-winning film is based) direction by Oscar winner Tony Walton and music and lyrics by Black 47’s Larry Kirwan is a major event.

Following the perilous ocean voyage taken by young Irish women who were sentenced and exiled to the relatively uninhabited south coast of Australia in the mid-19th century, the daily heartache and uncertainty they experience fills every line of this remarkable musical.
Keneally’s tale is reportedly based on the true story told by the grandmother of his wife Judy, who as a young girl journeyed in chains from Cork to Sydney, Australia in 1846.

Impoverished and referred to as “undesirables” by the authorities, these young girls were deported to Australia on the prison ship The Whisper to experience first hand the hard life of the Australian penal colonies.

The cast of characters includes members of the ship’s crew, an exiled Irish priest, and four exiled female prisoners. Fittingly, Kirwan’s score includes telling echoes of traditional Irish and Australian tunes that the musician, who is a scholar of the music traditions of the 19th and 20th century in the U.S. and Ireland, has crafted to carry a contemporary resonance. Kirwan’s music is alternately haunting and impassioned, contrasting deep private hurts with the indomitable Irish spirit.

As ever with the Rep, the production design is top notch, with direction and set design by three-time Tony Award-winner Tony Walton, choreography by Barry McNabb and music direction by John Bell. 

Transport will be performed February 7 through April 6 at the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street).

February will also see the Manhattan debut of Colin Broderick’s dark Irish comedy Father Who. The play, which runs from February 26 through March 9 at Theatre 80 on St. Marks Place, introduces us to Mary and Martin, who are having real problems trying to have a baby. That kind of tension is tough on a marriage, especially one that’s being conducted in a small two room apartment in Woodlawn, with Mary’s best friend, Irish Rosie, in and out the door every five minutes in her nightie.

And then there’s that unexpected Irish priest, who shows up from the past to spend a long week on their couch. Given the capacity for drama in this setup it’ll be a miracle somebody’s not killed. For tickets call 866-811-4111.

Meanwhile New York’s most outstanding theater company, Origin, will host its 12th birthday celebration on Wednesday, February 5 at 7 p.m. at Tavern 29 (47 East 29th Street). Tickets are $20 for public and $15 for actors, with prizes being awarded on the night.

The company is 12 but the increasingly high profile festival of Irish playwriting called 1st Irish that put them on the map is turning seven this year.  The month long, city wide festival of new Irish plays staged every fall continues to provide a unique platform for the very best in new play writing from the Irish diaspora both at home and abroad.

Now a staple of the wider New York City cultural calendar, receiving praise from across the world for its continued risk taking and principled support of new Irish work, the time has come for Origin to receive the recognition and financial support it deserves to undertake its profoundly valuable artistic mission.

Actress and singer Maria Doyle Kennedy, best known here for her delightfully treacherous turn as the scheming former wife of Mr. Bates on Downton Abbey, and further roles The Tudors and Dexter, will appear at the Irish Arts Center on Saturday February 8 as part of their SongLives series of world class Irish performance artists.

Expect an evening of rousing and sometimes melancholy but always passionate singing from a gifted artist who has recorded five albums and has collaborated with legendary artists like Snow Patrol, Damien Rice, Paul Brady and John Prine. For tickets to SongLives call 866-811-4111.