‘Emperor Jones’ review: stay out of the woods

Obi Abili as Brutus Jones in Irish Rep’s production of ‘The Emperor Jones.’ © Carol Rosegg

How it’s New York: Irish Rep presents the piece, one of the finest gems of a residential theatre in the city.
How it’s Irish: Eugene O’Neill was proud of his Irish heritage.

“The Emperor Jones” is Horror.

It is in the Horror genre the way “Night of the Walking Dead” is Horror.

How did I never notice this before?

“Blair Witch Project” has nothing on Eugene O’Neill’s (1920) play “The Emperor Jones.”

From the moment Brutus Jones (Obi Abili ) enters the woods, to try to get to the other side of the island, away from the natives he robbed blind, the drums never stop, the shadows hide monsters, and the creep factor is too high to measure.

O’Neill wrote his one-act this way—the “little formless  fears” are the first thing Jones encounters. But usually the takeaway is the psychological study, the ghosts of Jones’ own past that afflict him and the race memory that takes him to an auction block and even a slave ship.

Also, the takeaway from the show is usually the tour de force of the eponymous role. But while Abili brings gravitas and intensity to his role, his performance is not the main event. The play itself is, and that’s how it should be.

Director Ciarán O’Reilly, with the help of choreographer Barry McNabb, and evocative music by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab, additional music by Christian Frederickson, has put together a dark, precise and unforgettable production.

What terrors lurk in the woods?

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When Irish eyes are rolling… (Hail the Unnamed Irishman)

How it’s New York: Trump is from New York.

Donald Trump, making Ireland Nigerian Again.

How it’s Irish: It’s St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, and Trump wanted to find an Irish proverb to read to Enda Kenny.

Because of the day that’s in it, Irish people, such as Irish Labour secretary Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, he of the piercing blue eyes who called Trump a “fascist” right after the election (and the video of him saying it went viral, watch it below), are in the U.S.

Ó Ríordáin is here to participate in Irish Stand, a ticketed event at Riverside Church with such people as New York-based writer Colum McCann, “West Wing” actor Richard Schiff, and representatives from the Food Bank for New York City, the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, and politicians. Performances are curated by our friends at Artists Without Walls.  

Proceeds are going to the A.C.L.U., who have been staunch in their defense of those at risk under Trump.

No doubt this is also why Sean Spicer wore a green tie to the press briefing today, at which he once again yelled at the press.

But the real reason for this post is  that I simply could not resist the joy (O frabjous day!) of Trump reading a Nigerian poem and thinking it’s an Irish proverb.

Before you say “this is not culture!” remember: proverbs and poetry are culture… (more…)

Sephira cuts a rug

Sephira will appear at the Cutting Room on Thursday. (Image courtesy of Sephira/Tad Management)

How it’s New York: Sephira will be performing at the Cutting Room on March 16.
How it’s Irish: Ruth and Joyce O’Leary are natives of County Monaghan, and their playing style fuses traditional Celtic music with classical, rock and folk. Before striking out on their own as Sephira, they performed with Celtic Thunder.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Sephira will be bringing their unique blend of violin and vocals to stages in New York.

The duo of vocalist-violinist sisters Ruth and Joyce O’Leary is currently touring the United States. They have three albums to their credit, the most recent being Eternity.

New York Irish Arts spoke to Ruth and Joyce on Wednesday, just before they were to appear at the Cutting Room on Thursday.

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‘The Penitent’ is not absolved

How it’s New York: The play is by acclaimed playwright David Mamet, who is a founding member of one of NYC’s finest residential theatres, Atlantic Theatre Company.
How it’s (Irish) English & Jirish: Rebecca Pidgeon, who plays one of the four roles, has dual British/American citizenship. The play is Jirish because the main character is Jewish and has recently turned to religion to deal with his guilt.

Is it better than “China Doll?”

That’s the burning question.

It is. But honestly, that’s a low bar.

You may remember that David Mamet’s 2015 play, “China Doll,”  starred Al Pacino, who notoriously couldn’t remember his lines. The Broadway play was bad. It wasn’t entirely Pacino’s fault , because who in the Hell casts a movie star in a roll in which he basically has a long monologue (on the phone) for half an hour?  (Yes, Pacino has done a lot of stage work, but not in a while.)

In contrast, “The Penitent” has a series of two-person scenes. There is conflict. (There’s also some clumsy exposition.) There are characters. There is some decent acting (though Rebecca Pidgeon is so horrifically affected she was difficult to watch. She actually waited mid-line to be interrupted. Seriously, acting students know better.)

One could even say, “The Penitent” is GREAT!

Great, that is, if you know nothing about law, psychiatry or Judaism. (more…)

Lúnasa and Karan Casey at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall – Friday March 3, 2017

How it’s New York: At Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City
How it’s Irish: Irish Trad Super Group Lúnasa and Irish Singer Karan Casey

At Carnegie Hall! left to right Kevin Crawford, Cillian Vallely, Colin Farrell, Ed Boyd, Trevor Hutchinson

On a windy New York Friday night there was nothing better than being enveloped in the fiery tunes pouring forth from Lúnasa on their 20th Anniversary tour at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.  Clearly chuffed to be playing this historic venue, they launched straight into a set of tunes driven by the “pied piper” Kevin Crawford on whistle.

The program was a delightful romp through their catalog including sets of tunes from Scotland, Galicia in Spain, Brittany and original compositions from piper Cillian Vallely written for his daughters.  The crowd was clapping along throughout and Crawford kept the pace of the show lively and peppered with his hilarious repartee. (more…)

55 years and feeling the buzz: the Chieftains!

How it’s New York: The Chieftains play New Jersey, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, on Sunday, March 5, with special guests Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. The night before, Saturday, March 4, they play Queen’s College, the Kupferberg Center, in Flushing, NY. Paddy’s daughter Aedin Moloney is a New York actress, who runs the company Fallen Angels.
How it’s Irish: Um… it’s The Chieftains…

 

I’ve talked to Paddy Moloney several times and it’s always a treat… he tells stories, laughs at his own jokes, and even sings!

In the brand spanking new paper The Montclair Local I wrote up an interview with him, in honor of his playing at NJPAC this Sunday. Here are a few grafs from that piece… catch the rest here!

We have more to share with you from Paddy and hope to get up another piece, or even a podcast, in the coming weeks!

Romantic Ireland is not dead and gone – We have Declan O’Rourke

How it’s New York: The performance took place at The Irish Arts Center in New York City
How it’s Irish: Declan O’Rourke is Irish

I saw the wonderful Declan O’Rourke at the Irish Arts Center on Sunday night at his final performance of a three night run as part of their Valentine’s weekend programming.

Declan O'Rourke and orchestra ©Ian Toft

Declan O’Rourke and orchestra ©Ian Toft

The show opened with a 12-piece orchestra playing a piece composed for the evening. This was followed by the arrival of the very large presence of O’Rourke on stage. With the stance and posture of an ancient Irish warrior he opened the set with the very somber and haunting, “Her Silken Brown Hair”, which sounds more like a traditional Irish ballad than something penned by a 39-year-old.

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‘If I Forget’ asks when does history predict the future?

How it’s New York: Characters in the play live in Park Slope, and the play is a production of the Roundabout Theatre Company, one of New York’s most important residential theatres.
How it’s (Irish) Jirish: The play centers on the question of what the Holocaust means to Jewish identity, but in its family dynamics and many of its concerns with the past and the future, will feel very relevant to Irish-Americans too.

The adult sibling relationships in Steven Levenson’s ambitious new drama “If I Forget” are hilariously, and sadly, convincing. The Fischer family children–Michael (Jeremy Shamos), Holly (Kate Walsh, yes that Kate Walsh, of “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Sharon (Maria Dizzia) have just the right amount of in-jokes, shared history and buttons that are pushed, resentments and affection that anyone who’s got them will feel a jolt of pleasant, and uncomfortable, recognition.

The plot of the play, which won the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, is less compelling, despite terrific performances by the cast, which also include Larry Bryggman as elderly father Lou,  Tasha Lawrence as Michael’s wife Ellen, Gary Wilmes as Holly’s attorney husband Howard, and Seth Steinberg as Holly’s teenage son-from-a-prior-marriage Joey.

Wading into Arthur Miller territory, Levenson (best known for his libretto to “Dear Evan Hansen”) centers Act One around the question of Jewish identity vis-a-vis the Holocaust. It’s Miller territory because Michael, a Jewish Studies professor who has been “recommended for tenure,” has a book titled “Forgetting the Holocaust” in galleys. Its thesis  suggests that American Jews make too much of the Holocaust and it’s time to forget about it. He delivers well-constructed impassioned speeches, but nobody offers an equally impassioned, articulate rebuttal. Fortunately for the play, the drama doesn’t center so much around this question that it becomes about it. (more…)

‘The Present’: a small gift inside a big box

How it’s New York: ‘The Present’ with Cate Blanchett runs on Broadway, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
How it’s (Irish) Australian: Blanchett hails from Melbourne, Australia; the show comes to us via the the Sydney Theatre Company. Since itis an adaptation of Chekhov’s “Platonov,” his  early (and really, untitled) play, this show is also “Celto-Slav” and Russian.

It helps to read the play first.

That’s an unusual suggestion for me– usually I like to let a work stand by itself. But here, it really helps to know what the set-up is before you go. Even if you just read an act or two.

All of the elements of Anton Chekhov’s later plays are already there in his early work known as “Platonov.” Chekhov didn’t name the play, discovered 20 years after he died himself, and it has been called “Platonov,” “Wild Honey,” and “The Disinherited,” among others; it’s been adapted by Michael Frayn and David Hare; directed with rich theatrical gesture by Jiri Pokorny. Uncut, the play would last about six hours. But it’s all there: ennui. Fading, poor aristocracy. Possibility of a marriage of salvation. Empty trysts. A smart, disillusioned, unfulfilled schoolteacher.

So there’s much to love about “The Present,” an adaptation of that early work by Andrew Upton (Blanchett’s husband), directed by John Crowley. If anyone knew how to put people, hurt, dissatisfied, unpredictable people, in a room together and see what happened, it was Chekhov (Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” owes him a lot).

Blanchett is completely luminous in her Broadway debut as Anna, a young widow who is celebrating her 40th birthday by inviting several suitors and friends to spend the weekend with her at her country estate.

That little synopsis, though, is more than you might figure out for quite a while, all but the 40th birthday bit, which is announced. (more…)

All the world’s a cell: Phyllida Lloyd’s ‘The Tempest’ at St. Ann’s Warehouse

How it’s New York: Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse is one of the hippest places in the city; it’s known

L-R: Erick Betancourt, Harriet Walter, Sophie Stanton ©Teddy Wolff

especially as an importer of acclaimed and innovative work from overseas. The new building has the most comfortable lobby in town, with chaise loungeand often live music in the bar.
How it’s (Irish) English: The show is the third in the trilogy of Shakespeare plays performed by women, with the conceit that they are all inmates in a prison, and hails from England’s Donmar Warehouse.

Of all Shakespeare plays to set in a prison cell, “The Tempest” makes the most sense. Prospero, a sorcerer and the rightful Duke of Milan, is living on an island from which he cannot escape, after having been usurped by his own brother Antonio. He seizes a chance to cause a shipwreck when Antonio and King Alonso of Naples, complicit in the crime, are nearby, and restore himself and his daughter Miranda to their rightful places. Most prisoners can only depend on clemency.

The Tempest” at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the third in a trilogy from the Donmar Warehouse in London, all directed by Phyllida Lloyd, all featuring actor Harriet Walter, and casts of women performing a play within a play. “Julius Caesar” and “Henry IV” were presented earlier this season.

“The Tempest” is fiercely successful, asking the audience when and how does the punishment fit the crime. In each production, an actor frames the play by introducing the modern-day inmate telling the story. In “The Tempest,” Walter shows that Prospero’s interpretation  is based on the story of Judith Clark, a 67-year-old woman serving 75-to-life in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. Clark drove the getaway car in 1981 for a bank robbery that resulted in the deaths of two

(L to R): Liv Spencer (blond, somewhat outside the frame), Leah Harvey, Harriet Walter, Sheila Atim, Jackie Clune, Sophie Stanton, Martina Laird, Jade Anouka
©Teddy Wolff

police officers.  (Andrew Cuomo has commuted Clark’s sentence this past December, according to press notes, and she will be granted a parole hearing this year).

It’s impossible not to hear her story at the top of the show and ask what justice means- and that was the point of the choice. One of the play’s most indelible moments comes at the end, as prisoners leave, calling “Bye, Hannah!” while Walter sits alone in her cell.

But thematic sincerity doesn’t always make for great theater, and this is great theater. It has everything– terrific performances, surprise, spectacle, insight. If you can nab a ticket (It’s sold out, performances through Feb. 19), even if you’ve seen “The Tempest” before, you need to go.

You’ve never seen it done like this.

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New Book on Irish Music by L.E. McCullough

How it’s New York:  Latest book from L.E. McCullough focuses on Irish-American musical heritage
How it’s Irish:  2-volume set offers 4 decades of Irish music scholarship

___________________________

L.E. McCullough started writing about Irish Traditional Music in 1974.

He hasn’t stopped yet.

What Whistle-Flyer 150dpi-trimA new publication titled “What Whistle Would You Play at Your Mother’s Funeral? — L.E. McCullough’s Writings on Irish Traditional Music, 1974-2016″ gathers in two volumes the more than 300,000 words on Irish music and culture the prolific musician/scholar has published in 43 years of teaching and research.

Published by Silver Spear Publications in PDF and paperback formats, Volume I contains Dr. McCullough’s three major academic works — his landmark Ph.D. dissertation (Irish Music in Chicago: An Ethnomusicological Study) and earlier M.A. and B.A. theses (The Rose in the Heather: Irish Music in Its American Cultural Milieu and Farewell to Erin: An Ethnomusicological Study of Irish Music in the U.S.).

Volume II, subtitled “Everything Else”, covers a wide range of Irish music performers, instrument-makers and music events — 122 essays and reviews, journal articles and concert reports, blog reflections, album notes, newspaper features, seminar presentations, whistle-playing tips … and a screenplay.

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Up the Scots! Celebrate Burns Night

How it’s New York: Thomas Burt is a New York lawyer, and the Iona Sessions take place in Brooklyn.
Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Robert Burns is Scotland’s favorite son, and symbolizes Scottish heritage. See below for Robert Burns songs sung by Jim Malcolm and the late Andy M. Stewart with Silly Wizard (with the late Johnny Cunningham, Phil Cunningham, Martin Hadden and Gordon Jones, filmed in 1988). Just try not crying when Andy M. sings it.

Trust me. You know a few poems by Robert Burns. What do you sing on New Year’s Eve? “Auld Lang Syne.” That was his. “My luv is like a…” if you’re thinking “red, red rose,” you’re right, and that was his, too. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” also his.

The “Bard of Ayrshire,” who wrote in broad Scots in the 18th century, has become over the years the national symbol of Scotland.

The Irish have Bloomsday, which celebrates James Joyce and “Ulysses.”

The Scots have Burns Night, which celebrates Robert Burns (1759-1796) in a formal dinner, complete with recitations, music, and, of course, Haggis.

There are fewer Scots than Irish in NYC, and as lawyer Thomas Burt points out, the Scots have been very good at assimilating. They are harder to spot, but they are here.

“It’s a focal point to remind us who we are, and what we have in common with each other.”

Burt is also secretary of St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, founded in 1756, before Burns was even born. He points out that past members include Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Carnegie. The society raises money for two children’s hospitals, provides scholarships for graduate study and more.   There’s also a Scottish Bar Association of New York.

Irish pubs are everywhere, true, but there are some Scottish pubs in NYC and Brooklyn: St. Andrews, 140 West 46th St.,  Caledonia Bar, 1609 Second Ave.,  are a few. More are listed here.

And the wonderful, amazing, BEST THING ON NEW YORK STAGE “The Strange Undoing of Pruedencia Hart,” which comes to the McKittrick Hotel courtesy of the Scottish National Theatre, with script by David Grieg, has just been extended until March 26th. The show, set in a Scottish pub,  includes free drams, Scottish music and a wonderful retelling of a “woman meets the devil” folk tale– in rhyme!  (this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Review/podcast has been delayed thanks to a cold that lasted pretty much all December and January but believe me when I say you do not want to miss this show).

IONA Burns-3There’s even a Scottish music session: the Iona Session is held on Mondays at Iona,  180 Grand St., in Brooklyn. And they are having a Burns Night celebration, too:

The IONA BURNS NIGHT returns in all it’s shaggy glory next Wednesday 25th January at 9pm. Fiddler Emerald Rae and piper Andrew Forbes will unleash the musical beasts. Poetry, comedy, haggis and cheap adult beverages will flow. JR StraussMax CarmichaelAmy LynnCalum MichaelMatt DiazPamela Jean AgaloosMiguel Coias and Karen Brown in the house. Crying and screaming permitted. Also dancing and laughing.

The Burns Society of the City New York was founded in 1871, and is still going strong. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting to throw their own Burns supper, Burt says. It has a supper, and so does the American Scottish Foundation.

But what is a Burns Night (Burns Nicht) supper, anyway?  It celebrates the poet’s life, and the history of the Scots, and is held around his birthday: Jan. 25.

“It’s a rallying point for a diaspora that is hard pressed to find rallying points,” Burt says. “We assimilate out of existence into the economic and power structure of anywhere we land.”

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Overcoming the Competition

How it’s New York: It is catching up Tom Dunne’s old buddies across the pond, and they are fixing to hop across it for a visit!
How it’s Irish: Diddley, innit?

Irish music competitions sound like a nightmare to me, what with all the stories of young wannabe champions passing out and vomiting with the stress, and the bitter disputes over the scoring.  Yet there are good things that come from it. One of these is the camaraderie and friendship between old sparring partners. Two of Tom Dunne’s fellow contestants and subsequent buddies from competitions back in the day, namely Seamus Walshe and Patsy Moloney, have recently made albums which are well worth your attention.

seamus-trad-coverSeamus Walshe plays the box in a very personal style. In the liner notes of one of Seamus’s previous CDs Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion  Joe Burke likened his approach to that of an architect (Seamus’ chosen profession).  At the time, I considered that notion fanciful, preferring to just savor the luxurious experience of having that CD on repeat for a leisurely drive across the Canadian Rockies. Now I get the architect thing. There is definite evidence of a stately, elegant and logical form, yet lyrical and emotional touches abound.

seamus-turas

There are many examples of this on the new CD Turas: on the “Long Drop” Seamus shapes the first tune with phrasing and dynamic subtleties; as Eimear Reilly’s fiddle comes in for “Fred Finn’s Reel”, the stricter tempo and the “sit up and beg” figures enhance both the swing and the sadness in the tune; “The Torn Jacket” works as the release with a more straight-ahead approach (albeit with outstanding unison triplets).

 

The strong windswept melody of “Margaret’s Waltz” is stated with bold accordion and fiddle lines, leading into “Louis’ Waltz”, a staple of New York sessions (also known as “Dermot Grogan’s Favourite”). Here it is given a totally different treatment with the harp, fiddle and accordion creating a dense texture with the fiddle adding harmonic variations. The Poppy Leaf is another commonly recorded tune (twice by Tony DeMarco , and a stunning interpretation by Brian Rooney) which still gets a fresh treatment by Seamus and Grainne Hambly on harp. They take a relaxed pace, resisting the temptation to stuff the high part with notes, and smoothly transition into Charlie Lennon’s Rossinver Braes with its exquisite interplay of box and harp.

Turas means trip or pilgrimage and this album echoes that reflective note.  While it doesn’t have some of the exuberance of Seamus’ previous recordings it is an album of great sensitivity and maturity. It is also noteworthy that he has brought along some famous musical friends for this particular journey, including Alec Finn, Charlie Lennon, Noel Hill and Steve Cooney.

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New York Tradfest, for the fourth time!

How it’s New York: See the title! This festival of trad music and dance is put together by New York’s
Tony Demarco, center, plays fiddle at New York Tradfest. ©Newyorktradfest

Tony Demarco, center, plays fiddle at New York Tradfest. ©Newyorktradfest

own Tony Demarco, who runs the session at the 11th Street Bar and Swifts Hibernian Lounge. It will be full of players from the tri-state area.
How it’s Irish: It’s a celebration of Irish traditional music.

Fiddler Tony Demarco started the New York Tradfest in 2013, to give New York its own night of Irish music. Sure, we have Irish music throughout the year, and various “mini” festivals, but this one brings a big group of musicians to one place, on one night.

Tony, originally from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, runs the Swift session on Tuesday nights as well as the 11th Street session, known as the ones where the pros go. He know everybody: people beginning, people visiting with instrument in hand. Once, Tony said, there was a music festival at Irish Arts Center, but IAC hasn’t had one in about 20 years. That’s not to say IAC hasn’t been hugely supportive: in fact, Tony appeared with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill on Sunday, Oct. 23. IAC is one of the collaborators, along with many local pubs, 11th Street and Swifts of course, but also Paddy Reillys pub, Pier A Harbor House and many more.

For the past few years, the Tradfest has taken place at Connollys in Times Square. While the venue is easy to get to, it also gets crowded quickly– and its backstage is, well, a curtain and about a foot and a half of space, if you can call it that.

This year the festival will take place downtown at Pier A Harbor House, 22 Battery Place, beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased  at eventbrite at the door.

The venue is right on the Lower Manhattan waterfront, with a gorgeous view of the river and the Financial District skyline. What better place to hear the Auld sound than at Pier A, which opened in 1886 as the headquarters for the New York Harbor Police and Department of Docks? (and of course, there’s a long tradition of Irishmen in the police of all kinds!)

If you’re just in town for the weekend, this event will blend New York tourism with the trad music you love.

 

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