Podcast #42: Gavinstock and Woody Sez

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How it’s New York: Gavinstock is the second annual Gavin’s Irish Music Festival, consisting of some of the best Irish bands in New York. “Woody Sez” is a show about Woody Guthrie, playing at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre.
How it’s Irish: Gavin’s Irish Country Inn— need we say more? but it’s in East Durham, New York, the Emerald Isle of New York, and the bands are all playing Irish music. Woody Guthrie was Scottish descent.

WOODY SEZ HAS BEEN EXTENDED THROUGH SEPT. 10!!!

We talk to Bernadette Gavin,  of Gavin’s Irish Country Inn, about Gavinstock, as well as to Kevin McCarthy  of Shilelagh Law, one of the bands playing there. We then talk to David Lutken, performer and co-deviser of the phenomenal “Woody Sez” at Irish Repertory Theatre.

 

Featured Tune: “Together in the End,” about 9/11, by Shilelagh Law

Reporting on ‘Immigrant Arts in America’

How it’s New York: The Museum of Jewish Heritage is located in Battery Park.

Panelist Daniel Kahn and Moderator Ann Curry – Photo by Julia Osen Averill

How it’s Irish: The panels included representatives from the Irish Repertory Theatre, the Irish Arts Center and Irish artists Carrie Beehan and Larry Kirwan.

On July 17th, an all-day summit entitled Immigrant Arts In America was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, presented by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. The morning panels (which I unfortunately missed) featured a wide array of representatives from the New York arts and culture communities, including the Kairos Italy Theater, the American Federation of Musicians Local 802, the Turkish American Repertory Theater, the Irish Arts Center and Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance.

In the afternoon I attended two panels moderated by journalist and former “Today” co-anchor Ann Curry. The first was entitled Curating The Immigrant Experience and included Rocio Aranda-Alvarado  from El Museo Del Barrio, Elissa Cohen from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Hanna Griff-Sleven from the Museum at Eldridge Street and Andrew Rebattta from the Museum of Chinese in America.

Griff-Sleven spoke about the unique position that the Eldridge Street Museum, which is housed inside the 19th century Eldridge Street Synagogue, has held for the last century on the Lower East Side and well beyond the little stretch of street.

“We’re an anchor in the neighbourhood. The faces have changed but they’re still immigrants with the same problems. We’re a country of cast outs. We’ve reached out to the community when we’ve had to and it reinforces the notion that we come together.” (more…)

Podcast #41: ‘Find Your Way Home’ and ‘The Journey’

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How it’s New York: ‘Find Your Way Home’ plays Symphony Space on Tuesday, July 25. ‘The Journey’ had a New York premiere.
How it’s Irish: The musical ‘Find Your Way Home’ is about an Irish family in 1910. ‘The Journey’ fictionalizes in film an encounter between Ian Paisley and IRA leader Martin McGuinness in 2006, as they attempt to end the conflict in Northern Ireland.

We spoke to “Find Your Way Home” co-author Jimmy Kelly, and to “The Journey” director Nick Hamm.

Featured song: “Heaven Hear Me Now,” from “Find Your Way Home.”

 

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…)

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…)

Podcast #39: T’he Emperor Jones’ and ‘Rebel in the Soul’

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How it’s New York: Irish Rep is considered one of the best New York theatres. Eugene O’Neill did his time as a New Yorker, and Larry Kirwan, of Black 47, is a New York treasure.
How it’s Irish: Eugene O’Neill was of Irish descent. Both plays take place at Irish Rep, and “Rebel in the Soul” is a dramatization of a political moment in Irish history.

We spoke to  actor Obi Abili and director Ciarán O’Reilly about the haunting production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones” at Irish Rep, and then with playwright/performer Larry Kirwan of Black 47 about his play “Rebel in the Soul,” also at Irish Rep.   Both plays run through May 21.

Featured tune is a song Larry wrote for the show, “Never Feel Like This Again.”

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.

(more…)

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…)

Podcast #38: Wils Wilson on ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart;’ ‘Narcan’

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How it’s New York: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart was a big hit Off-Broadway. “Narcan” played at Irish Screen America and at the Manhattan Film Festival.   rssheadphones1
How it’s Irish and Scottish: Jim Halpin, of “Narcan,” is from Limerick (he played young Malachy in “Angela’s Ashes.”)
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” is by Scottish playwright David Grieg, presented by The National Theatre of Scotland and the McKittrick Hotel (home of “Sleep No More.”)

We spoke to director Wils Wilson about the brilliant and unforgettable Scottish immersive drama “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,”a campfire pub play if there ever was one, with brilliance running through each line like water inside a snowflake. Alice Farrell spoke to Peter Halpin, star of the short film “Narcan,” which may turn into a feature film Stay tuned.

Featured tune is from Annie Grace’s “The Bell.” Annie was in the cast of  “Prudencia” when we attended. We think she has a voice to rival Dolores Keane and were sorely tempted to end with two of her songs.

‘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?

(more…)

‘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…)

‘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.

(more…)