Thirty-seven brand new Irish plays have been presented by Origin Theatre Company’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival in New York over the last seven years. No other festival in Ireland (or anywhere else) produces that many exciting new shows. Cahir O'Doherty talks to artistic director George Heslin about the upcoming festival, which is now the biggest showcase of new Irish writing in the world.
It's time Irish political leaders admitted what Irish artists have always known – Irish culture is global. It’s not confined to the old sod because we’re not; we’re on every continent and we have been for centuries. That awareness needs to make its way home, fully and finally.
The written word, spoken or sung, is often how the world first gets to know us. That’s why the Irish government and its cultural agencies should be generously underwriting Origin’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival - it's the most charming of all charm offensives, and it's the only festival of Irish playwriting in the world.
That Origin’s 1st Irish Festival happens each year in New York City, perhaps the world’s most important international meeting place, is an added bonus. What better way to introduce ourselves on the world stage than through the medium of theater?
Thanks to the visionary leadership of artistic director George Heslin and Origin’s board, the festival reaches its seventh year this month, a remarkable achievement that’s thanks almost entirely to its hardworking members.
Since the company’s inception in 2002, when it introduced the work of Tony winner Enda Walsh to the United States for the first time, Origin’s focus has been on bringing the work of Irish and European playwrights to the New York stage.
Over just seven years the company has introduced New York to the work of 100 Irish playwrights, in an act of creative daring that has seen Origin praised in The New Yorker and The New York Times.
This year’s festival highlights include actress Geraldine Hughes and playwright Jimmy Kerr’s joint venture "Four Women and a Boat." When four Irish ladies in their golden years take a boat trip the journey offers them a chance to reflect on the lives.
But when it’s Irish women doing the reflecting expect laughter, tears and a lot of craic. The show plays at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House for one night only on September 18 and best of all, it’s free. For reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a North Side Dublin laugh riot check out "Waiting for Ikea" by Georgina McKevitt and Jacinta Sheerin (and starring McKevitt and actress and playwright Laoisa Sexton).
Set in the fair city, the play introduces us to inner city girls Chrissie and Jade, who spend their days swanning around the flats in their pajamas and bitching about their lives. "Ikea" has a sharp script, with more to say about how Irish lives are lived now than all the classic theater it takes aim at. The play will be staged at Times Square Arts Center from September 17 through 28. For tickets call 212-868-4444.
"Boys and Girls" is a rollicking four hander that follows four chancers across a ding night (two get lucky and two don’t). Written in verse and intercut between four actors, it veers between poetry and downright filth in its hymn to Dublin and youth.
Described as dirty, funny, crazy and a little bit sad, it’s a portrait of the young Irish as they connect (and fail to) over a single night.
The play emerged from Dublin’s spoken word scene, so the language is as rich and funny as the city that inspired it. Just don’t take your granny or your kids. You have been warned. For tickets call 212-279-4200.
In a world that makes sense, playwright and actor Anto Nolan would be feted on Broadway for his passionate and brilliantly funny plays. "Docs, Socks and Jocks" is his latest about Richie “Yum Yum” Jenkins, a man who’s spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law, but, as he says himself, as an ordinary decent criminal.
Watch what happens when Richie falls foul of his nemesis on the premises Sergeant Jones, who doesn’t believe his friendship with a local Muslim vendor is innocent at all. The play runs from September 10-13 at the Times Square Arts Center. For tickets call 212-868-4444.
One of the most daring and creatively rewarding aspects of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival is Origin’s commitment to the playwright and the written word. Last year the company challenged a group of Irish playwrights to each create a 10-minute play to be written, rehearsed and performed in two days.
The five best plays from that process will be presented this month in a show called "The Big Green Apple." Jane Mulcahy’s "After the Eulogy," Aisling McLaughlin’s "Waiting for Ebbets," Paul Kennedy’s "‘Til The Ocean Is Hung Out to Dry," Orla McGovern’s "Kitchen" and Karl O’Neill’s "Where Have All the Roses Gone" will all compete for your love and applause at the Times Square Arts Center on September 22 and 23. For tickets call 212-868-4444.
"Port Authority" is the Irish Rep’s season opener in their new temporary space at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square (while their West 22nd Street home is renovated). Another ruefully funny play about lost and lonely Irishmen waiting for or missing out on their last big chance to turn it all around and save themselves, McPherson’s signature skill is to notice how so many people seemed to get cheated out of a happy ending.
The Rep’s masterful productions are one of the most enduring pleasures of a New York City life, and director Ciaran O’Reilly knows how to find the genius of a script and bring it to life. Expect fireworks. The show will be performed at the DR2 at 101 East 15th Street. For tickets call 212-727-2737.
Children are also represented at the festival in the show "Between Lands and Legends," a drama performed by Emerald Footprint Drama Group (aged between seven and 12) that forges a link with seniors and the marvelous Irish legends they pass down.
Written by the New York Irish Center’s arts director Jane McCarter, the show reminds the iPhone-obsessed kids of the digital age that there’s much more to living than Twitter and Facebook updates. The show will be presented at the New York Irish Center on September 21. For tickets call 212-868-4444.
“The model for the festival is still the same,” Heslin tells the Irish Voice. “It’s dedicated to playwrights from Ireland or those who hold an Irish passport. We have really gotten good at curating the event and ensuring its quality.
“We’ve had 37 brand new Irish plays come out of our festival in New York over the last seven years. There’s no other festival anywhere, not here or in Ireland, where so much exciting new work has been developed.”
He’s not joking. For example, five years ago celebrated playwright Morna Regan was invited to write the show "The Housekeeper" for the festival. Later she returned to Dublin with the play where the legendary Rough Magic Company picked it up. Last year it won Best Play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards. Thanks to 1st Irish another hit play was born.
But since Heslin is far too modest to say it, allow the Irish Voice to say it for him: Ireland needs to pay a little more attention to where its talent is finding their best forum.
Mutual of America, the Northern Ireland Bureau, Tourism Ireland, the American Ireland Fund, New York State Council for the Arts and the Irish government have all come on board at various levels of commitment since the festival’s debut, but if we’re serious about Irish culture – and who can doubt we are? – it’s time our nation’s political leaders made a major commitment to support the new Irish work that is our best introduction to the world.
For a complete listing of all the shows in the 1st Irish festival visit 1stIrish.org.