‘Lady Bird’ Marks The Return Of Luminous Talent Saoirse Ronan To The Big Screen

How it’s New York: Writer/Director Greta Gerwig is based in New York and actress Saoirse Ronan was born in the Bronx

Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein in “Lady Bird”. Courtesy Merie Wallace.

How it’s Irish: Saoirse Ronan is Irish-American, raised in Ireland

Greta Gerwig, who came up through Mumblecore movies, has established herself in recent years as a writer, bringing her distinctive voice to Frances Ha and Mistress America. For her first turn behind the camera she turns her attention to her own Sacramento adolescence that serves as the inspiration for the film.

Although she’s in her 20s, Ronan nails what it’s like to be a romantic, struggling narcissistic teenager.

It’s circa 2002 and Saoirse Ronan plays Christine McPherson, who yearns for something bigger than her staid Catholic school youth on the wrong side of the tracks. To her, Sacramento is the “Midwest of California.”  To usher in a new era, she gives herself the name “Lady Bird”. She’s a smart but underachieving senior, a sort of outsider with one best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), both surrounded by their far wealthier classmates and their stately homes. She gets along with her understanding father Larry (Tracy Letts), but is an angry jerk toward her brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), a recent college graduate.

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Billy Bragg at City Winery

How it’s New York: City Winery is a winery and music venue located in lower Manhattan.

How it’s Irish: Billy’s been known to play the old Irish folk song,“The Croppy Boy,” in which the narrator is a young Irish revolutionary in the 1798 rebellion. 

Singer songwriter legend Billy Bragg played two sold out shows at City Winery on Monday, October 16th.

In the early show, Billy played new songs from a just released six-track EP, “Bridges Not Walls”, slated for release November 3rd. Included on the new EP is his Dylan re-write, “The Times They Are A Changing Back”, and a new single entitled “Saffiyah Smiles,” both commentaries on our current political landscape. Billy also played “Levi Stubbs Tears,” “A New England,” and “The Milkman of Human Kindness” along with three tunes from his 1988 album, Workers Playtime.” 

Characteristic of his work, these songs emphasize the importance of bringing a new humanitarian spirit to our present times.

Billy brought the audience together with stories drawn from the road and his life and gave his considered take on our current political situation.  For him, his new songs are “my way of trying to make some sense of what’s going on. And there’s been a lot going on.” He stressed how we must all fight not to become cynical – that optimism, dogged and determined, needed to be the order of the day.

I was lucky enough to have traveled with Billy and Joe Henry as they recorded their album of folk songs, “Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad”, an album that went to number #1 on the UK’s Americana Albums chart after its release September 2016.

It was wonderful to see Billy again. We had coffee the following day and I had a chance to tell him what a galvanizing show it was and how much the crowd really needed to hear that reminder to keep fighting and to not give up.

Joe Henry, who recorded “Shine a Light” with Billy, has a brand new album, just released this week entitled Thrum.” On it, Joe sings: “Oh come let us be hungry in the world.” Billy Bragg and Joe Henry are artists who hunger for a better world. Both seek to remind us through their music that we are all united in song and in life.

Here’s that special film project I directed for Billy & Joe:

 

Here are some photos from the City Winery show:

 


Karl Geary – Montpelier Parade Launch at the Irish Arts Center

How it’s New York: In New York at the Irish Arts Center
How it’s Irish: Irish writer Karl Geary launches his first Novel Montpelier Parade.

Karl Geary reading from Montpelier Parade at the Irish Arts Center – photo by Andy Ryan

He has crafted a compelling story of longing, love, loss and isolation with vivid characters and a driving narrative that made me not want to put the book down, and sad when I was finished reading.

What a delight it was to get the chance to hear my old East Village pal Karl Geary read this past Tuesday night at the Irish Arts Center!  It was yet another wonderful evening of collaboration put together by the innovative folks at the IAC, with Jenna Nicholls and Gerry Leonard providing musical counterpoint and an insightful conversation with Poet, Playwright and Actor Dael Orlandersmith.  I got a chance to sit down with Karl before the show and it was fantastic to get a further look inside the characters and inspirations behind this fantastic first book.

 

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‘Woody Sez’ will break your heart and lift your spirits

How it’s New York: “Woody Sez” takes place at Irish Repertory Theatre, one of the city’s best residential theatres. Guthrie

David M. Lutken plays Woody Guthrie in “Woody Sez.” ©Carol Rosegg.

influenced the Clancy Brothers and Christy Moore. Andy Irvine, of Planxty, has a wonderful song tribute to Guthrie in his “Never Tire of the Road.”
How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Woody Guthrie was of Scots descent, and his mother sang old ballads to him. The show has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Belfast.

Listen to our podcast with David M. Lutken here!

Somewhere during the thrilling performance of “Woody Sez” at Irish Rep I began to feel depressed.

When did the working man stop believing in unions? When did labor throw in with management? How did this happen? Would Guthrie, whose guitar had “this machine fights fascists” on it, be dismissed as “Antifa” today?

There has hardly been a rally this year that didn’t close (or open) with Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Maybe, like me, you learned the song in kindergarden (along with “If I Had a Hammer,” written by Pete Seeger, a long-time collaborator of Guthrie’s). Maybe you forgot this song was composed by a 20th-Century American.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), the subject of the devised musical byby David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein, is considered the father of American folk-music. Rightly so. His music, which chronicled the Dust Bowl years in particular and fought Fascism, had an impact on not only folk singers but also rock singers.

“Woody Sez” at Irish Rep is already on my Top 10 list. It is one of the best shows of the year.

I know, the year’s not over. This show will not be edged out of Top 10. It will probably stay in Top 3. Hell, it may stay at the top.

It was meant to end in June, but it kept extending. It now will end on Sept. 10. You can still see it: hurry up!

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Enda Walsh’s ‘Rooms’ need space to grow

How it’s New York: Irish Arts Center is known as one of New York’s best residential theatres. Enda Walsh’s “Rooms” was a companion piece to “Arlington” at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, so Walsh encouraged a New York City tour.
How it’s Irish: Enda Walsh is an Irish playwright, and the voices heard in “Rooms” are Irish ones.

 Guest writer T. Cat Ford, a New York City-based playwright, visited Enda’s theatrical installation last month and wrote a report for us. She brings the eye of a professional theatre artist working in a smilar idiom to this write-up. For a full  review, see Alice Farrell’s coverage here.

In Enda Walsh’s “Rooms,” a theatrical installation at the Irish Arts Center, the audience is invited to explore three rooms – a kitchen, a hotel room, and a child’s bedroom, in small groups – while listening to the inner thoughts of each room’s inhabitant.

This is an exciting concept and potentially immersive.

Unfortunately, I did not feel “Rooms” achieved its goals.

When entering someone else’s space all of our senses are engaged.

We learn about other people not only through sight and sound but by touch and smell. The audience is invited to explore the rooms, encouraged to pick up the items and yet the rooms are not lighted well enough to facilitate this. Only one room brings the lights to full, and that is fairly late in the piece. (more…)

Canada’s 150th Birthday: NYC Rocks The Great Canadian Songbook At Joe’s Pub

How it’s New York: Joe’s Pub is a longstanding performance space in Noho.

Christina Bianco impersonates Celine Dion on Canada Day. All photos ©Shani R. Friedman.

How it’s Irish: Several of the artists covered, like Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morrisette, are of Irish descent and a number of the performers, like Greg Naughton, are Irish American.

On July 1st, Joe’s Pub had its annual celebration of Canada Day with an evening of comedy, music and of course, the national anthem. For the 15th year, Joe’s Pub raised a glass (or many, as Canadians, like the Irish, are known to enjoy a drink) to the country’s many songwriters and artists, like Rush, The Weeknd, Joni Mitchell, The Tragically Hip and Alanis Morrisette.

Most of the performers were not Canadian but FOCs (Friends of Canada) and virtually all of them have come back year after year to interpret their favourite songs. A number of the singers are well known locally like Christina Bianco, Greg Naughton, Alyson Palmer and Tylee Ross.

The evening kicked off in the red and white-mittened hands of charming Master of Ceremonies Jeff Breithaupt. He explained that he created the Canada Day fest because his friends kept asking him whether Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are Canadian and exasperated, he told them yes, they belong to us!

Before the singing, comedian and storyteller Ophira Eisenberg, perhaps best known to New York audiences as the host of NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” shared some laughs. Looking out at the crowd she declared,

“Look at these faces. So white!”

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Rocker May at Webster Hall

How it’s New York: Webster Hall is a New York music venue
How it’s Irish: Imelda May is an Irish artist
Imelda May at Webster Hall

Imelda May at Webster Hall

She has apparently been called  the queen of Ireland by Bono, but I didn’t know a whole lot about Imelda May – other than she was from the Liberties in Dublin, had a unique hairstyle  and sang rockabilly. But that all changed on Tuesday when I saw her perform at Webster Hall. A school night an’ all, and the place was throbbing. I’m not sure what constitutes a full house at this non-seated venue, but it was close to full with what seemed like loyal May fans, many of whom were Irish, and Dubs in particular. A sign in the audience confirmed this and caught the singer’s eye when in the middle of her act she read the sign to the audience,

“Are youse comin’ for a pint after?”

to which she laughed and said

“Up the Dubs!”

Her set began with a couple of heartfelt ballads as she sat on a stool in a more indie/singer/songwriter style than I’d expected. Gone was the quiffed hair I had known her for, and in its place was a Joan Jett look and later I was to discover a Joan Jett sound too. The new look is part of May’s metamorphosis after some major life changing events – a divorce, a new baby, and a new musical style on her latest album, “Life Love Flesh Blood.”

A good friend of Bono’s, she talked about a recent dinner she had at his house, where a poem was recited instead of grace before dinner.

The poem focused on the two base emotions – love and fear (not hate as we all assume)  – and how pertinent it is that the world is focusing heavily on one of those right now. There is a great line in the song that followed this introduction, “Love and Fear”,

“Good people do bad things and bad people do good things … ”

– one that is still playing in my head days later. Other standouts songs of the evening were “Black tears” and “Should’ve been you”, both sang with a pure, raw intensity. (more…)

Caroline’s On Broadway Presents Des Bishop

How it’s New York: Caroline’s has been entertaining local audiences for over three decades

DES BISHOP

How it’s Irish: Des Bishop and all of the comedians on the bill are Irish-American

Des Bishop at Caroline’s on Broadway
Saturday, June 24, 7:30 and 10 p.m.
Sunday, June 25, 7:30 p.m.
1626 Broadway, New York
212-757-4100

Caroline’s kept it all in the hilarious (Irish-American) family Friday night and for headliner Des Bishop, that was literal as he shared the bill with his brother Aidan, and their much-abused mum was in the audience. Friday kicked off the first of five shows the lads are doing over the weekend, with Brendan Fitzgibbons as host for the evening.

Fitzgibbons, a Chicago native, warmed up the room with crowd work, showing no love for Wisconsin or New Jersey. Having lived in both states I say fair. Now calling Crown Heights in Brooklyn home, Fitzgibbons explained that his current roommates are all women, which his friends told him sounded awful. His take on the difference between living with women (his current roommates) and with guys:

“I have a safe place for my emotions. Beats being called gay whenever I asked about the weather.”

Although most people in the room last night were fans, for those unfamiliar with the Bishop brothers’ story, they were raised in Queens but spent large parts of their youth and adult years in Ireland. Aidan Bishop, the younger of the two, has been living in Dublin for the last 14 years. He’s worked steadily as a comedian in Europe, creating a one-man show that went to the Edinburgh Fringe and is perhaps best known as the resident MC at the International Comedy Club in Dublin.

Of his unmistakable Flushing accent Bishop remarked, it’s “the least intelligent accent on the planet. You’d never hear it on the Discovery Channel.” About a decade ago, when he was in his late 20s, Bishop, who had struggled as a student, learned for the first time he was dyslexic, which was life-changing for him and also a source for comedic gold.

“When I had to look up ‘dyslexia’ on Google, it was the most patronizing ‘did you mean?’ ever! Fuck you, Google!”

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Review: Sinking Ship’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ feeds the soul

How it’s New York: The show takes place at the Connelly Theater, one of those theaters inside an old school (?) you may never

Jon Levin in ‘A Hunger Artist.’ Photo by
Kelly Stuart

have known was there but is wonderful, and is presented by The Tank’s Flint & Tinder series, which makes space available to artists.
How it’s Irish: It’s Celto-Slav, really. But the Irish do have an affinity for Kafka.

Sinking Ship Productions
The Connelly Theater
220 East Fourth Street (between Avenues A & B)
Through Tuesday, June 27
Presented by The Tank

 

Sinking Ship Productions adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” makes you want to stand up and cheer.

It’s only June and I’m calling it now as possibly the best solo performance of the year.

It’s smart. It’s funny (and Kafka is really funny. Seriously, he is. The word “Kafkaesque” really should mean dread AND FUNNY, not just  scary as Hell. Though it’s scary as Hell too).

And it’s highly theatrical.

Inventive. Fresh. Physical.

Presented by The Tank, at the Connelly Theater (one of those theaters in an old building you probably have never been to), this is a work that is everything new theater should be.

And astonishingly, all of the roles are played by performer Jonathan Levin, including the fat producer, and the skeletal Hunger Artist. (more…)

Donovan at The Cutting Room!

How it’s New York: Donovan made a rare New York City appearance this past Tuesday, June 6th. It’s said that it’s Donovan who wrote the words on the cue cards that Dylan tosses accompanying the masterful “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in D.A. Pennebaker’s film “Don’t Look Back”. That scene was shot here in New York City.
How it’s Irish: Donovan now lives in County Cork, Ireland, with his family.

Donovan played all his big hits this past Tuesday at a sold out show at New York City’s The Cutting Room. The audience was full of fans who were excited to hear Donovan who rarely plays live.

It was just Donovan and his acoustic guitar for the evening. He opened with the beautiful “Catch The Wind” and ended the night with “Sunshine Superman”, “Season Of The Witch” and lastly “Atlantis”.

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Leaving the Cake in the Rain: A Celebration of the Music of Jimmy Webb

How it’s New York: The concert took place at the legendary Carnegie Hall.
How it’s Irish: Jimmy’s ancestry is part Irish; one of his biggest hits, “MacArthur Park”, was recorded by his dear friend, legendary Irish actor Richard Harris, and every morning he has a double shot of Bewley’s Irish Breakfast Tea.

“When we need a song, we go to Jimmy”.

The Carnegie Hall stage came alive on a recent Wednesday evening with a lineup that featured several living legends armed with an impressive collection of pop culture prizes – everything from Grammys to Oscars to Tonys to Hall of Fame immortality – but the real stars of this particular show were the songs of Jimmy Webb.

“The Cake and the Rain,” a celebration of Webb’s musical career that also

served as a benefit concert for the Alzheimer’s Association and the I’ll Be Me Foundation (in honor of his longtime friend and fellow music icon Glen Campbell) featured many of the colleagues, collaborators, and disciples of the fabled songwriter, who paid tribute by singing his tunes and telling some stories. Hosted by Michael Douglas, the incredibly diverse program included Judy Collins, Johnny Rivers, BJ Thomas, Dwight Yoakum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Shelea, Liz Callaway, and Graham Nash, who acknowledged the famous venue with the rousing If These Walls Could Speak. (more…)

The Pictures of Dorian Gray

How it’s New York: Visit to a New York bar.
How it’s Irish: It’s an Irish bar named for an Oscar Wilde character.

In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one beer. And therein lies a tale.

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Enda Walsh’s ‘Arlington’ leaves an aftertaste

How it’s New York: “Arlington” is part of “Enda Walsh in NYC,” joint presentations by the Irish Arts Center and St. Ann’s
Warehouse in Brooklyn

Isla (Charlie Murphy) stretches. ©Teddy Wolff.

How it’s Irish: Playwright Enda Walsh is Irish, and the play takes place in a dystopian Ireland. It’s billed as “St. Ann’s Warehouse presents Landmark Productions/Galway International Arts Festival.”

I didn’t enjoy “Arlington.”

I don’t think you’re supposed to.

After seeing this dystopian drama (set in an Ireland in some future time when people are warehoused in towers and made to tell stories of their pasts until they kill themselves), I was ready to write it off.

But the play keeps coming back to me, as if I’d swallowed something that tasted bad and can’t get it out of my mouth. It’s like acid reflux.

It’s an acid reflux play.

(Similarly I loathed, loathed, loathed, Wallace Shawn’s “Aunt Dan and Lemon” when I saw it, and being a baby playwright, could justify all my reasons. Then I noticed I was still talking about it weeks later. Hmmm.)

Today, when  we’ve just discovered the Syrians are hiding crematoria, Walsh’s dystopic fantasy feels like a waking nightmare. It’s not plausible, but it’s not ridiculous, either.  It’s not hard to imagine a time when some people would willingly lock up the others, to keep resources for themselves.

I wasn’t truly moved, because I couldn’t  buy into it. Not as it stands.

But it feels like an opiod-nightmare (I had foot surgery, OK?). It gives me the shivers.

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Enter Enda Walsh’s “Rooms” for an interesting hour of introspection

A Girl’s Bedroom.

How it’s New York: At New York’s Irish Arts Center

How it’s Irish: By Irish playwright Enda Walsh

On a dreary New York afternoon this past Saturday I took a diversion for an hour into the “Rooms” of playwright Enda Walsh. The piece, running at Cybert Tire on 11th Avenue, the future home of the Irish Arts Center, is contained in three plain white boxes which house the story and belongings of 3 different people.

The audience is encouraged to enter the rooms and explore, touch and take in the items in the room.  An audio track plays giving each story in the voices of the inhabitants: a woman in her kitchen, a child in her bedroom and a man in a hotel room.

A kitchen.

Much like being in an art gallery, we wandered around the environments looking to see what they told us of the people that Walsh wanted to show us.  The stories are a bit sad and stark, but you do get a sense of these people and the lives they have lived in these spaces. (more…)