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…)

Tribeca Film Festival: The strain in Spain stays mainly in the brain in ‘The Trip to Spain’

How it’s New York: It’s a “Spotlight Narrative” entry in the Tribeca Film Festival – in New York City, of course!

Filmmaker/DirectorMichael Winterbottom on the Red Carpet with Suze (Ray Foley, photographer, NYIA)

How it’s Irish (and English and Welsh): Actress Claire Keelan (“Emma“) is “from Ireland by way of Liverpool.” The director, Michael Winterbottom, hails from Blackburn, Lancashire, England. Steve Coogan (“Steve“) is an English actor, stand-up comedian, impressionist, screenwriter, and producer from Middleton, Manchester, England. And Robert Brydon (“Rob“),  is an MBE and Welsh actor, comedian, radio and television presenter, singer and impressionist.

Road Pictures: a genre as old as Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, as ground-breaking as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, as turned on its head as Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise, and as final (please!) as what-the-hell-my-agent-said-it’ll-be-good-for-my-career as Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, and William H. Macy in Wild Hogs.

In 2010, Michael Winterbottom contributed his homage  to road pictures as a British television-series-turned-feature-film called

I “squeezed the kids in” but “not doing a Mick Jagger”

The Trip. The premise was a paid food and travel article gig between two buddies, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, that turned into a culinary romp through Northern England. That film was so successful that Winterbottom repeated his efforts twice more: The Trip to Italy (his favorite cuisine) and, now, The Trip to Spain. (more…)

‘Love After Love’ at Tribeca Film Festival 2017

Cast of Love After Love at premiere at Tribeca Film Festival (Photo by Nicholas Hunt – © 2017 Getty Images – Image courtesy gettyimages.com)

How it’s New York: The film played at  the Tribeca Film Festival, a festival designed to get New Yorkers back downtown after 9/11. Russell Harbaugh is a New York director.
How it’s Irish: Features Irish Actor and Comedian Chris O’Dowd as Nicholas in slice of life drama by Russell Harbaugh.

“Love after Love” at Tribeca just received

  • Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Cinematography by Chris Teague forLove After Love. The award was given by Alex Orlovsky

 

Usually walking into a movie starring Chris O’Dowd I would expect a laugh-fest, and that was not at all what I encountered with Love After Love this week at Tribeca.  This piece is definitely a more serious and sometimes somber look at the ways that life, love and loss affect us all.  The story from

Dree Hemingway and Chris O’Dowd in Love After Love

director Russell Harbaugh and writer Eric Mendelsohn wends its way through the struggles and emotional chasms of loss and finding love again.

In the lead role of the womanizing and high-strung Nicholas, O’Dowd is miles away from his usual hilarious persona, and gives a riveting look into what makes this guy come unhinged. (more…)

‘Emerald City’ – A Cinematic Gem That May Speak for a Generation

How it’s New York: A New York story shot on location in the Big Apple.
How it’s Irish: Written and directed by a native of Tyrone, and featuring an ensemble of Irish actors.

Some of the cast and crew at the recent London Film Festival.

For an Irish emigrant in the latter half of the 20th century, there was a supposed ‘holy triumvirate’ of occupations that one could, not so much enjoy, but experience. Three jobs the weary long-term ‘visitor’ has, over generations, been either, welcome to try his hand at, or been firmly nudged towards, due to a lack of opportunities elsewhere. There’s the pulling of pints and there’s the moving of furniture. Then there is the knocking down, and building up of; walls, ceilings, floors, apartments, skyscrapers, neighborhoods and entire cities. See, that’s what we’ve done. We’ve torn things down, and built them up. Whether it be buildings and businesses, or friendships and families. We’ve held them together, and torn them apart, for over 200 years in this town. This home from home, this Big Apple, this ‘Emerald City’.
Writer/director Colin Broderick, one of those unique breeds, a County Tyrone-born and reared New Yorker, has set out to tell a tale or three, involving several memorable characters from this, his first movie, detailing the lives and loves of an ageing Irish construction crew. ‘Emerald City’ expertly weaves a number of storylines together into a colorful tapestry, one that is rich in character and colorful of language. It is as much a tribute to the immigrants who came and stayed and those who never made it back, as it is to Broderick’s beloved New York.  This is where he, before honing his skills as an acclaimed writer of two biographical works (‘Orangutan’ and ‘That’s That’) and a number of plays, worked in the construction industry, where ideas for many of his characters no doubt, first developed.  (more…)

‘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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‘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…)

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…)

‘New York City: A Shining Mosaic’ review

How it’s New York: Tales of immigrants who arrived in New York City.
New York City: A Shining Mosaic produced by Charles Hale. September 27, 2016. 1st Irish Theatre Festival. Featuring Niamh Hyland, Walter Parks, Elsa Nilsson, Eleanor Dubinsky, Laura Neese, John Duddy, Jack O'Connell, Mala Waldron, Yuri Juárez, Julie Kline, and Charles Hale at Pier A Harbor House, New York City.

Photo courtesy of Mitch Traphagen.

How it’s Irish: Those arriving left lives behind in Ireland. This piece was part of Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish 2016.

Were this event staged a few years back, before the advent of the so-called “information age,” there’s quite a chance that attendees of this extraordinary production may well have invited encyclopedia salesmen into their home, to peruse their wares, and purchase a volume or two, to look up a few of the fascinating tidbits that Charles R. Hale’s modern masterpiece had informed them of.

“New York City: A Shining Mosaic” is so much more than a play: it is a series of vignettes, a song and dance revue, a carefully interwoven collection of biographies of several characters, some seen, others merely mentioned.

It is a story which unravels elegantly, a timeless tale that reminds us that there were generations here before us, dozens, scores, hundreds of them: men and women who had less, but yearned for more. Brooklyn had them by the thousands. :New York City: A Shining Mosaic,” directed by Niamh Hyland (music), Julie Kline and Charles R. Hale, is brought to us by Artists Without Walls, and is a production celebrated aptly right within sight of the arrival of all of those millions of immigrants who made it to New York, at Pier A, which looks out on New York Harbor, with Lady Liberty and Ellis Island calmly watching in the wings.

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