‘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.


“Crackskull Row” at Origin’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival

How it’s New York: Written by New York based playwright and author Honor Molloy and performed as part of Origin Theatre Company’s 1st Irish Festival 2016 in New York City
How it’s Irish: Set in Dublin in 1999
Terry Donnelly & Colin Lane (photo by Michael Bonasio)

Terry Donnelly & Colin Lane (photo by Michael Bonasio)

The rough-hewn walls, threadbare curtains and dilapidated leather sofa set the stage for an intense slice of Dublin life in Honor Molloy‘s play “Crackskull Row”.  The show opens with the long absent son/narrator Rasher Moorrigan (played by John Charles McLaughlin) giving exposition on the state of the family and the addled and fragile remains of his mother that we are about to meet.

Terry Donnelly stars as Masher, the mother of the piece, pining for bygone days, lost love and absent children.  She’s worn down to a nub of herself and hides everything she needs within the confines of the couch where she sits, sleeps, and eats.  A hardscrabble woman who was a bit of a “dolly” in her day, she imagines her daughter (played by Gina Costigan) doting on her and her absent son (played by Colin Lane/John Charles McLaughlin) fulfilling her desires and fuelling her frustrations.

This play attacks your senses and sensibility with both barrels and it’s hard to tell at times what is real and what is not.  A daughter appears, but is she real?  There seems to be a strange relationship between the mother and son.  How did the long-dead father really die?  And why has Rasher come back? (more…)

An agonizing, haunting look at famine in Donnacha Dennehy’s “The Hunger”

Iarla Ó Lionáird and Katherine Manley perform in Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger, a collaboration with Alarm Will Sound. (Photo courtesy of Jack Vartoogian/BAM)

Iarla Ó Lionáird and Katherine Manley perform in Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger, a collaboration with Alarm Will Sound. (Photo courtesy of Jack Vartoogian/BAM)

How it’s New York: Alarm Will Sound had its origins at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, and its debut concert was in New York in 2001. “The Hunger” was included as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.
How it’s Irish: The play originates from first-hand accounts of the Great Irish Famine in the 1840s. Playwright Donnacha Dennehy is a Dublin native, and the founder of the Irish musical ensemble Crash Ensemble. The play is presented in partnership with the Irish Arts Center.

Hauntingly melodic and starkly condemning at the same time, “The Hunger,” Donnacha Dennehy’s collaboration with Alarm Will Sound, is many things all in one: an opera, a documentary, a concert. The result is a work that is meant to unsettle the audience rather than to console.

The show had two performances on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s

As Asenath, Manley is the leader of a one-woman chorus, a Cassandra figure whose words and appeals seem to fall on deaf governmental ears in England. It is hard not to be frustrated at her recounting how a man on the verge of death is repeatedly told “come back on Tuesday” to receive his ration of grain.

Howard Gilman Opera House, as part of the 2016 BAM Next Wave Festival.


Ann Kirrane’s ‘Behind Yon Mountain’ brings in a rainbow

How it’s New York: Singer Ann Kirrane has performed in New York.album_cover_behind_yon_mountain
How it’s Irish: Kirrane is from Clare, and the CD includes songs from all over the island.

Singer Ann Kirrane has a clear soprano voice that is full of warmth and expression. In her second album, “Behind Yon Mountain,” the Tuam singer uses it jauntily, sorrowfully, joyfully, and always beautifully. It’s trad, yes, but gentle, chamber trad, Sunday morning with coffee and a croissant, sunlight filtering in.

The title is fitting: it’s a CD that promises a flash of light, a rainbow, around the next hill.

In fact, there’s a beautiful picture of a rainbow in the CD sleeve in this cleverly designed jacket. Each song has nice notes (and thanks to whomever decided not to go with reverse type, so that they’re readable).

The 15-song CD includes songs in Irish, traditional songs, and songs by contemporary songwriters Mick Curry, John Doyle, Brendan Graham, among others- including Leonard Cohen. 

Originally from Bellharbour, Co. Clare, Kirrane has music in her blood: her father Chris Droney and grandfather Jim both played concertina, and so did she, winning the  Growing up, she played with her father, with Tommy Peoples, Kitty Linnane and Paddy Mullins of the Kilfenora Céili Band.

The album journeys around Ireland, including songs from different regions, and also around many different Irish moods. If you like the singing of Heidi Talbot, Mary Black, Dolores Keane,  Ann Kirrane’s CD will fit nicely in your collection. (more…)

‘The Cure’ by Conal Creedon, Directed by Tim Ruddy.

How it’s New York: This play, featuring Michael Mellamphy, was performed in Queens, as part of the 1st Irish Festival.

Michael Mellamphy in Conal Creedon’s “The Cure.” ©Babette Perez.

How it’s Irish: Written, directed and starring Irish artists.

We may not be fortunate enough to know the likes of Michael Mellamphy, an award-winning actor from County Cork, well enough to say hello to. Many of us are, on the other hand, in a position where we’re aware of the existence of such characters as John Murphy (or Sean O’Murchu, depending on who is referring to him), the individual Mellamphy plays in “The Cure,” a one-man piece, written by Conal Creedon (“The Trial of Jesus,” ‘” Be To The Father,” “Second City Trilogy”) and directed by Tim Ruddy (“The International”).

Mellamphy’s portrayal of John Murphy, a washed-up, broken-down and burnt-out survivor of Cork’s Christian Brothers schools, is a welcoming natural force, brushing aside any stereotypical ideas we might have of an Irish man who likes a pint, and banishing them forever, in a drawer filled with inflatable shamrocks and curly green wigs.


Glen Hansard at Carnegie Hall – September 14, 2016

How it’s New York: at New York’s Iconic Carnegie Hall
How it’s Irish: Dublin Singer/Songwriter Glen Hansard


This was one show very close to my heart!

I first met Glen Hansard in Sin-é, an East Village café that was once at the epicenter of hot young Irish rock and Trad culture.  He was all curls and wide-eyed wonder, and the enthusiasm and passion he had for music is still going strong nearly 25 years later. 


I’ve hungrily devoured all the delicious musical morsels that have poured out of his voice and guitar over the years and the cherry on top was getting to see him reach the pinnacle of a solo show at Carnegie Hall.

The warmth of that hallowed hall made the tone of his songs even sweeter as he launched the show with You Will Become

He was jovial and totally at ease, peppering  his set with anecdotes and reminiscences 

from his debut album, “Rhythm and Repose.” With a stripped-down band consisting of a string quartet (with longtime Frames stalwart Joe Doyle on both upright and electric bass) and additional guitar and drums, the acoustics of the room made it an intimate experience, even from the farthest balcony.

Glen drew on many of the songs from his two solo releases – the 2015 “Didn’t He Ramble” and the 2012 “Rhythm and Repose.”  He was jovial and totally at ease, peppering  his set with anecdotes and reminiscences about the road to this momentous show.  Joining him for Lowly Deserter and Wedding Ring (from “Didn’t He Ramble”) was brilliant Brooklyn trombone player Curtis Fowlkes of The Jazz Passengers and John Laurie’s The Lounge Lizards.  There were even a few moments where Glen went totally acoustic, just his voice and guitar filled that historic space with the whole audience hanging on every note. (more…)

Andrew Finn Magill’s ‘Roots’ go deep

How it’s New York: According to LinkedIn, Andrew Finn Magill has lived in New York13244016_731296016974100_3566772383683040555_o
How it’s Irish: He’s a virtuoso Irish fiddler

 This review first appeared in Irish Music Magazine.

10 tracks.

37.16 minutes

“Roots” by Andrew Finn Magill is only the first of two albums the virtuoso fiddler plans to release in 2016; the second, “Branches,” is slated to come out in the autumn and will feature more of his jazz and Brazilian influence.

From the first confident notes of the first track, a set of reels including “Miss MacDonald” and “The Siesta,” the album has you tapping your feet and smiling. Magill, a North Carolina boy, was an All-Ireland fiddle finalist twice by age 14, His LinkedIn page somehow has him living in both Brazil and New York, and he leads his own Brazilian choro quartet, O Finno.

His first album, 2005’s “Drive & Lift,” received praise from all sides:. He’s been busy since then: he received a Fulbright-MtvU Fellowship to co-write and co-produce an album musically capturing HIV/AIDS experiences through song in Malawi. “Mau a Malawi: Stories of AIDS” came out in 2011. Not just a great musician, but a great person, clearly.

On “Roots,” he’s supported by the incomparably rhythmic John Doyle on guitar, as well as rising star Sean Earnest on guitar; master uillean piper Cillian Vallely; Vincent Fogarty on 10-string bouzouki and terrific fiddler Duncan Wickel.


Riverdance at 20 is as good as you remember – only better

The "Riverdance" ensemble. (Photo courtesy of Amanda-Rachel Garcia/Prana Marketing)

The “Riverdance” ensemble. (Photo courtesy of Amanda-Rachel Garcia/Prana Marketing)

How it’s New York: The show had its U.S. debut at Radio City Music Hall in 1996. Current musical director and fiddler Pat Mangan is a Brooklyn boy. Tapper Christopher Broughton has some Broadway credits to his name.
How it’s Irish: Riverdance. You can’t get more Irish than that, can you?

The pre-recorded show greeting came first in Irish, then in English: You are welcomed to this 20th anniversary production of “Riverdance.”

Two questions were running through my head as I was setting into my seat, way up in the third tier at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark:

“Is it going to be as good as I remember?”


“How on earth has it been 20 years already?”

I’m afraid I really can’t answer the second question. But to the first question, I say: Yes. This incarnation of “Riverdance” was every bit as good as the original – and then some.



How it’s New York: Fallen Angels Theatre Company is a New York City-based company, and the show performs on Theatre Row at the Harold Clurman Theatre (tickets here).
Morag (Aedin Moloney, right) comforts Fiona (Barrie Kreinik). ©Carol Rosegg

Morag (Aedin Moloney, right) comforts Fiona (Barrie Kreinik). ©Carol Rosegg

How it’s Irish: Aedin Moloney is Irish, and her father, Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, wrote the music. The play itself is Scottish.

There’s something poignant about the fact that Fallen Angels’ production of “When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout” ends on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, at the Harold Clurman Theatre.

Scottish playwright Sharman Macdonald’s play explores a fraught relationship between a mother and daughter, beginning in the present, when the daughter is 32 and on a beach holiday with mum, and flashing back to the daughter’s teenage years, when she takes a desperate step to keep a mum she doesn’t even really get along with by her side.

As that mum, Morag, Aedin Moloney shines. Even when she’s nagging her daughter Fiona (Barrie Kreinik) about providing her with a grandchild, you can’t help liking her. She puts so much heart in each moment that your stomach hurts for her. (more…)

Ireland Rising – Words and Music for a New Century: A Special Benefit Performance for Irish Arts Center

Irish Arts Center_ Almost Home_Page_1

How it’s New York: Took place in New York at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side.
How it’s Irish: Benefit performance for the building fund for the new Irish Arts Center.

This past Friday I was honored to be among those treated to the best the Irish Arts Center has to offer.  The overriding sentiment of the night was that when the Irish Arts Center calls, you stop everything and rush right over to support them.  And that is just what the phenomenal performers featured in this varied night of song and story brought to the party.


A testament to the true diversity that has become the norm at the Irish Arts Center, this show offered something for everyone. The show opened with the ethereal voice of Christine Tobin moving through the audience, followed by the gorgeous “Beautiful World” from Declan O’Rourke.  A luscious orchestra, under the direction of Henry Hey, laid the groundwork for the performances to follow which ranged from a country tinged “Raglan Road” from Cork singer Nicole Maguire, a bluesy tune from JD & The Straight Shot, a number of greatest hits tunes from Paul Brady, as well as a couple that he wrote with lyrics from poet Paul Muldoon.

One of the highlights of the evening was the vocal quartet Women of the World, a delightful group singing backup for a number of the other artists, most impressively with the powerful singer from Sierra Leone, Loah.  

Liam O’Maonlai teamed up with jazz singer Cassandra Wilson for a powerful rendition of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” and O’Maonlai sang a few of his own songs and trad standards.

IAC staples Joanie Madden, Athena Tergis, Mick Moloney and Billy McComiskey contributed a lively set of barn dances and a few songs as the Irish Traditional section of the evening.

Curtain Call for "Ireland Rising, Words and Music for a New Century. Symphony Space, NYC. The Irish Arts Center. Friday, April 22, 2016. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Curtain Call for “Ireland Rising, Words and Music for a New Century.” Symphony Space, NYC. The Irish Arts Center. Friday, April 22, 2016. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Comic relief and pathos were provided by readings from Peter Quinn, Zadie Smith, Mick Laird and Cólm Toibín. The major plea for pledges was delivered by none other than the Queen of Ireland herself, Panti Bliss in all her glittery glory!

A true treat was 17 year old jazz guitarist Andreas Varady from Limerick who has already been signed to a major label, and with good reason.  His dexterity and musicality is up there with any of the jazz greats and this young man is an excellent example of the innovative programming that is keeping the Irish Arts Center at the top of its game.

The finale of the evening brought out Riverdance alum Jean Butler to do a duet of pieces with the band, with her precision percussion as sharp as ever.

Overall the evening was lively, diverse and delightful, as are so many of the programs that will be even more impactful once the amazing new home for the IAC is finally funded and built.  There is still a long way to go, and if you have a bit of loose change knocking about and looking for a good home, you can contribute to the building fund here:


Here’s to many more years of incredible music, art, theatre, dance and education in their fine new home.


Tiger Raid Thrills Tribeca Film Festival

Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony in "Tiger Raid"

Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony in Tiger Raid

How it’s New York: US Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival
How it’s Irish: Starring Irish Actors Brian Gleeson and Damien Molony

This year my time at the Tribeca Film Festival started with the visceral thriller from director Simon DixonTiger Raid.  Straight out of the gate, this film pits its two main characters, Paddy (Damien Molony) and Joe (Brian Gleeson) against each other, across the vista of war torn Iraq.

A devilish mix of psycho-drama and buddy-road pic, we find the two main characters, Irish mercenary cast-offs set adrift after the end of The Troubles in Northern Ireland,  on a mission to carry out a Tiger kidnapping of the daughter of a well-heeled Iraqi businessman.


‘Irish Pubs in America’ informs about ‘locals’ and entertains

How it’s New York: A lot of the pubs in the book are located in New York (and why should they not be?).
How it’s Irish: With a whole book about pubs, stout, whiskey and good honest craic, how could it NOT be Irish?
Irish Pubs in America is Robert Meyers and Ron Wallace's look at a selection of Irish pubs in the United States. (Cover art courtesy of Deeds Publishing.)

Irish Pubs in America is Robert Meyers and Ron Wallace’s look at a selection of Irish pubs in the United States. (Cover art courtesy of Deeds Publishing.)

Few institutions occupy the same revered status in Irish and Irish-American culture as the “local,” the neighborhood pub. Everyone has their own favorite local; this reviewer happens to have a soft spot for Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair.

But what makes a pub authentically Irish?

Surely there is more to it than having a few kegs of Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s on tap and Céad Míle Fáilte engraved over the doorway.

Robert Meyers and Ron Wallace seek to answer that question a little bit, and provide a good list of places to have a pint, with “Irish Pubs in America: History, Lore and Recipes.” The result is a quite entertaining and informative look at locals and the people who love them.


‘The Prodigal Son’: Being a teen is hard, and wonderful

How it’s New York: John Patrick Shanley is from The Bronx.
Prodigal Son Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage I Cast List: Annika Boras Timothée Chalamet Robert Sean Leonard Chris McGarry David Potters Production Credits: John Patrick Shanley (director) Santo Loquasto (scenic design) Jennifer von Mayrhauser (costume design) Natasha Katz (lighting design) Fitz Patton (sound design) Paul Simon (original music) Other Credits: Written by: John Patrick Shanley - See more at: http://playbill.com/events/event_detail/prodigal-son-at-manhattan-theatre-club-stage-i-374681#sthash.8ggjeh5b.dpuf

Timothée Chalamet @Joan Marchus

How it’s Irish: And he’s Irish-American and writes often about characters who are Irish-American.

John Patrick Shanley’s somewhat autobiographical play at Manhattan Theatre Club, “The Prodigal Son” vividly recalls the strange and terrible land that is youth.

“Do you remember 15?”

asks the main character, Jim Quinn (Timothée Chalamet), as the play opens. In the scenic background is a large house at a distance, the Thomas More School, with a light on, and birch trees around it. The evocative set design by Santo Loquasto, moody lighting design by Natasha Katz, and hovering music by Paul Simon set the tone early.

Quinn, an articulate, pugnacious kid from The Bronx, is our guide through his two “years in Hell.” He receives a surprising full scholarship to a Roman Catholic prep school in New Hampshire. That’s the essence of the play really: kid from Bronx finds his footing. It’s more than enough; it’s riveting. It’s a powerful dramatization of the way memory of youth works– it’s always there, in the distance, the house in the background, the voices we hear. (more…)

Hey! Stephen Karam! ‘The Parting Glass’ is a parting song! ‘The Humans’ review

How it’s New York: “The Humans” debuted at The Roundabout, one of New York’s best resident theatres, and is now on Broadway.

Sarah Steele and Cassie Beck in a scene from THE HUMANS. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

How it’s Irish: The family in the play are Irish-American.

Cultural appropriation. It’s not cool.

Stephen Karam’s play “The Humans” is the toast of the season: virtually everybody has raved about it. Charles Isherwood of “The New York Times” wrote that it is:

Written with a fresh-feeling blend of documentarylike naturalism and theatrical daring, and directed with consummate skill by Joe Mantello, Mr. Karam’s comedy-drama depicts the way we live now with a precision and compassion unmatched by any play I’ve seen in recent years.

Well, it is Arthur Miller’s centenary this year. Maybe you should reread “Death of a Salesman.”

So I’m going out on a shaky limb here when I say this play is boring, predictable, and fake. It rewrites “The Parting Glass” to further Karam’s thematic agenda.

If a playwright rewrote a Hispanic or Asian song to do that we’d be hearing about it. It’s not OK to do it to an Irish song. It just isn’t.

Seen the Tullamore Dew commercial? That’s the proper tempo for the song.

General Martin Dempsey sang it at his retirement last year. His tempo was more of a march. But it is not a cheer-us-up ditty. (I’ve embedded these and a few others at the end of this post).

Stephen Karam changes the line with the title of the song! He changes “bring to me the parting glass” to “lay down your fears.”

The play is about fear. That’s what we call heavy-handed.

Despite what Isherwood writes, the play isn’t “documentary-like,” at least, not a good documentary. It’s documentary the way the Soviet newspaper “Pravda” was documentary. And it sure as hell isn’t a nice well-made play, because well-made plays are generally not boring.

Sitting through “The Humans” is like being at someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner while they rehash family fears and jokes. A not very interesting family. (more…)