‘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…)

Tribeca Film Festival: The Lovers is a Screwball Valentine

How it’s New York: The spotlight narrative film, The Lovers, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Broadway playwright and actor Tracy Letts, of Irish descent, plays one of the leads (“Michael”). And Aiden Gillen (“Robert”) IS an Irish actor.

Debra Winger as Mary and Tracy Letts as Michael in THE LOVERS.

Azazel Jacobs, screenwriter, director, and producer of The Lovers, maintains that the film is a fond look back at screwball comedies. But this reviewer only had to take a look at his parents, who were seated in the audience and took an informal bow at the screening I attended, to figure out the real reason for this film: they have been married for a gazillion years, but there’s still a glowing “something” going on there for them. This film explores, among other things, middle-aged, long-term married “love” and what makes it tick. One might wonder how Jacobs could possibly keep such a theme interesting for 94 minutes much less how a couple could keep a marriage vital year after year.

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Tribeca Film Festival: ‘The Public Image is Rotten’

How it’s New York: Documentary aired at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Focuses on the work of John Lydon, the London-born son of Irish immigrants.

He’s lived the life, of that there can be little doubt,  and the man at the forefront of Britain, no, the world’s, punk explosion back in the mid 1970s is still living it. Perhaps it’s not the ostentatious existence of obnoxiousness which representatives from other musical genres are, for reasons unknown, proud to display, but John Lydon, a man who shocked, even disgusted, most of the population while enjoying his heyday as the UK’s supposed public enemy Number 1, is still here, and has no plans on going anywhere. His supposed alter-ego, Johnny Rotten, may have been somewhat forced into semi-retirement many years ago, and while the attitude has softened somewhat, and the ironic sneer has metomphorphozed into a cheeky grin, the charismatic personality that some of us loved, and more loved to hate, is here, at Tribeca, and on the big screen.

 

Lydon, who fronted The Sex Pistols, Britain’s most outrageous musical act, for three years before they imploded in 1978, is no stranger to controversy, or indeed, documentaries, having been the subject of a number over the years, most notably 2000’s ‘The Filth and the Fury’, the director of which, Julien Temple, is one of those interviewed for this one.

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Tribeca Film Festival: ‘Pilgrimage’

Jon Bernthal as the Mute.

How it’s New York: “Pilgrimage'”was included in the Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Set and filmed in Ireland,  it features an Irish cast and crew.

“Pilgrimage,” the upcoming Brendan Muldowney film which featured last week at the Tribeca Film Festival, is one of those rare cinematic gems, which ticks all the appropriate boxes. It is a road movie, or perhaps a ‘little-used woodland path’ movie, without the motorized vehicles.

It is a buddy flick, where men become friends and companions, but, perhaps more importantly, allies. It is an action flick, with enough battles and blood to keep hearts racing and pulses rising.

More than any of that however, it is an Irish production, set in an era we don’t often see represented in film (the 13th century),

featuring a talented ensemble cast of established and recognizable actors, mingle with a number of up-and-coming faces from Ireland’s drama scene. (more…)