Theatre: 1st Irish so far

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Pat Kinevane in Silent (@Ger Blanch)

How It’s New York: The 1st Irish Festival is a New York event, conceived in New York, for a  New York audience.
How It’s Irish: It’s the 1st IRISH Festival, with plays by Irish and Irish-American writers.

Here’s my wrap-up of what I’ve seen so far in the Festival: these plays close this weekend, except for one that has already closed, but will be in the upcoming Solos Festival in October. New plays in the Festival have started: For Love, Jimmy Titanic, Brendan and House Strictly Private. The Festival ends this weekend, with the closing ceremony on October 1!

A version of this article was first published in Irish Examiner USA, Tuesday, Sept. 25.

The 1st Irish Festival, now in its fifth year, is halfway through.
Some of the shows have closed, others will be closing next week, and others will begin this week.
For details and to buy tickets visit www.1stirish.org.
Here’s our take on what we’ve seen so far:

Silent

Running at Irish Arts Center, extended through September 30. Presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company in association with the Irish Arts Center

Written and directed by Pat Kinevane and directed by Fishamble’s Artistic Director Jim Culleton, the play is a one man show about a homeless man, Corkonian Tino McGoldrig, who was named for Rudolph Valentino.He reflects on his closeted homosexual brother, who killed himself after some aborted (and hilarious) attempts on his own life, his failed marriage, and kindness.

Kinevane, as he did with The Forgotten in 2010, engagingly talks to the audience to pull them into the show, and uses his physicality engagingly.At times it felt a little gimmicky, however. I didn’t really buy the device of a bag of exotic dance clothes as an excuse for Tino to dress up, for example, and the ending was a little disappointing.
But Kinevane’s humor never lets you down: a comparison between the French and Cork accent is worth the price of admission alone.

Fly Me to the Moon

Martin Lynch for Green Shoot Productions, Running at 59E59 through September 30.
 
Marie Jones, the author of November and Stones in His Pockets, wrote and directed this two-hander about careworkers in Belfast who panic when they find their elderly charge has died.

What begins as a slight panic soon turns into larceny and even arson, with the best intentions in the world.

Katie Tumelty,Tara Lynne O’Neill (Vinnie Loughran)

Frances, sharply portrayed by Katie Tumelty, is proud of her teenage son, who’s been expelled from school but has entrepreneurial skills in selling bootlegged DVDs, and she’s the mastermind of the two women. Fake whiplash? “That’s how I got my new kitchen,” she says without batting an eyelash.

Loretta, a sweet-faced, blonde and cuddly Tara Lynne O’Neill, has a stronger sense of ethics but with an unemployed husband and a Euro Disney-bound child, she’s in sore need of funds.
The play is at its most effective when the reality of that situation comes through in O’Neill’s sad voice.
The dead man was a Sinatra fan, hence the title.
There are a lot of laughs, but not a lot of plot development – the situation goes on a bit long to make its point.
But the women are so over the top ridiculous and fun to watch that you’ll probably not mind very much.

Hard Times: An American Musical

Presented by and at The Cell Theatre through September 30, with an additional performance added on September 29.
 
Black 47’s Larry Kirwan collaborated with Stephen Foster, the 19th-century composer, for this musical set against the draft Riots in Five Points, New York, in 1863.
There’s energy to spare in Kirwan’s play, which resets some of Foster’s 19th-century ballads in a rock and roll vein, and also includes some Kirwan originals.

At times the characters’ perspectives on minstrelsy, race relations and homosexuality (which was not conceived of as an identity until the 1890s) seem a little modern, but then again, we are singing Foster to a rock and roll beat, so it all makes sense.

Jed Peterson, Stephane Duret, Almeria Campbell

Almeria Campbell winningly plays Nelly Blyrh, the black owner of a bar much like McSorley’s (there’s even McSorley’s ale for sale), which seems a kind of show bar where she’ll occasionally let people drink if they sing. John Charles McLaughlin plays Owen Duignan, a hotheaded young Irishman who starts the play off vibrantly by singing in blackface about how much he hates singing in blackface.
Nelly is courted by Michael Jenkins, played by Philip Callen, a white man with conflicted feelings.
Other characters include Thomas Jefferson, played by Stephane Duret, Stephen Foster, played by Jed Peterson, and Jane, Foster’s wife, played by Erin West.

There’s a live band onstage and it’s particularly clever the way Kirwan has woven in some reels throughout.
At times, lovely as the music was, and beautiful as the cast’s voices were, the songs seemed an interruption to the scenes.

The songs are lovely, though, and include all those Foster songs that are suddenly all the rage again: “Beautiful Dreamer,” “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair,” “Oh, Susanna,” and of course, “Hard Times.”

Auditions, Zoe’s Auditions, Part 2

Presented by the Be You, All Others Are Taken company, in association with the Drilling company. Closed September 23, but will have additional performances in United Solo Festival on October 15 and 23.
 
Suzanna Geraghty wrote and appeared in this one-hander about a sweet production assistant on a troubled production of A Christmas Carol who wants to be an actress.
Geraghty’s piece is dear, funny and smarter than it seems – much like her character of Zoe Browne.
Andy Crook offered help with direction and movement.

With a Mary Poppins voice and a dizzy dame appeal, Zoe goes through a series of hilariously bad auditions, with a voice shouting “next!”

Suzanna Geraghty (@Ros Kavanagh)

The Riverdance audition ends with a bagpipe on Zoe’s head, and her sincere wish that nobody was injured.
A voiceover at the top warns the audience that they will be expected to take part or risk ruining “the reality of the show and everybody’s fun.”

So people do take part, answering that no, we haven’t heard her name called yet, or nominating the person sitting next to them to be “Olga,” the director of The Three Sisters.

Geraghty has crafted a smart drama, not just a series of sketches: she shows Zoe interacting with her elderly, crotchety agent, with her dysfunctional cast, and, eventually, with a clever riff on “A Christmas Carol.”

Geraghty has hedged her bets a little by showing us that Zoe doesn’t just have a dream, she actually has talent, and some training – which doesn’t work perfectly with someone who thinks The Three Sisters are people she should know.

But when the ghost of Christmas future answers her “to be or not to be” with “that isn’t the question,” the play goes somewhere surprisingly powerful.

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