Ballyturk is darkly funny

How it’s New York: St Ann’s Warehouse, in Dumbo (a section of Brooklyn) consistently is one of the edgiest NY Theatres.
Ballyturk

Tadhg Murphy and Mikel Murfi in “Ballyturk.” ©Teddy Wolff

How it’s Irish: Enda Walsh and most of the cast and design crew are Irish.

“Ballyturk” plays at St. Ann’s Warehouse through Jan. 28

It’s always a magical experience to head under the Brooklyn Bridge and tread those cobblestone streets to get to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo. But add Enda Walsh’s work to the stage and it truly becomes a night to remember.

The brilliance of some art is that it leaves a myriad of imprints on its audience. I overheard a variety of interpretations of the play as we left the theater on Saturday night, none of which bore any resemblance to my own and all of which were different. Listening to an interview with Walsh and Susan Feldman the artistic director of St. Ann’s Warehouse subsequently, Walsh confirmed that it was in fact his intention for the audience to make it their own.

For me “Ballyturk” is part farce, part human tragedy and part  psychological exploration. A pretty good trifecta for your buck.

I first saw Walsh’s work in Galway in 2006. “The Walworth Farce” – not too dissimilar to “Ballyturk” in many facets – opened there at the Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF). Walsh considers Galway people his core audience he relayed in the interview, which was moderated by with GIAF Artistic Director, Paul Fahy. Walsh feels they are more comfortable with the surreal than other audiences. I agree – a bit of magic and mystery is never too far away from Galwegian psyche.

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“The Dead, 1904” is agonizingly beautiful

How it’s New York: This immersive theater adaptation of James Joyce’s novella, “The Dead” takes place at The American Irish

Photos by Carol Melissa.

Historical Society at 991 5th Ave, New York, New York.
How it’s Irish: Another stunning production from The Irish Repertory Theater.

This Christmas production began last year and continued through this one. It sells out fast, so we hope this will give you some ideas for next year: this review came in at the very end of the run.

 

“The Dead, 1904,” based on James Joyce’s novella, portrays an Ireland haunted and paralyzed by its past. Adapted by Paul Muldoon and Jean Hanff Korelitz, the play is in its second seasonal year at the Irish American Historical Society. Director Ciaran O’Reilly’s original and innovative staging brings to vivid life an evening of musical entertainment hosted by the elderly Morkan sisters (Patricia Kilgarriff and Patti Perkins) in their Dublin home for their annual epiphany festivities. As their guests, the audience joins in the merriment, and is lead through toasting, singing, dancing, and poetry and finally to a feast. Dinner, inspired by the holiday fare described by Joyce, includes marinated beef tenderloin, ‘floury’ potatoes and cranberry and pineapple relish, served on fine china and accompanied by wine in crystal glasses.

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Home is where the soul is: Brian Friel’s ‘The Home Place’

How it’s New York: Irish Rep is one of New York’s most acclaimed theatres.

Maggie (Rachel Pickup) is a luminous presence at The Lodge.©Carol Rosegg

How it’s Irish: Brian Friel is Irish, the play is set in Ireland, and it depicts a turning point in Irish history.

Editor’s note: this review, also an analysis, contains spoilers.

Brian Friel has been called the Irish Chekhov. it’s easy to see why: like the Russian master, he tells his stories gently, with people who are often aristocrats (in fact, he has a play called “Aristocrats”) sitting around talking, the action all in subtext.

But not always.

“Translations” tells a story of betrayal and love and abandonment in its story. And so does “The Home Place,” finishing a many times extended run at Irish Rep on Sunday, Dec. 17. It’s only the second time Friel’s last play, written in 2005, set in 1878, has been produced in America. The Guthrie presented it in 2007.

Friel would be proud. The beautiful production is haunting; a dream that’s about to be a nightmare. Literally. I lost sleep.

Reviewers can be forgiven for missing this point. Even those who loved it missed it. There’s a secret and a sucker

Yes, Charlotte Moore helms a talented cast with nuance and grace. Yes, there’s a Downton Abbey-like charm to James Noone’s set of a dining room and an outdoor patio,  and to David Toser’s elegant period costumes.

But it would be a mistake to assume that the action is on the surface. There’s a lot churning underneath, and not just feelings.

The play is a masterpiece, and Moore does it proud.

I was so unnerved by the play’s final line that I emailed the director with my theory. (Spoiler: she said I was on to something.)

The very last moment of the play gives us a clue, and, like the moment at the end of “The Sixth Sense,” makes you rethink everything.

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There’s a RIOT on the way!

How it’s New York:  Happened this week in New York City
How it’s Irish: Talk with Irish Theatre company ThisPopBaby and Panti Bliss about upcoming tour of their show RIOT

RIOT. photo by Conor Horgan for THISISPOPBABY

This past Tuesday the Irish Arts Center hosted a talk with the creators and star of the upcoming show RIOT from the Dublin Theatre company THISPOPBABY.  The brainchild of Jennifer Jennings and Phillip McMahon, who are collectively THISPOPBABY, and starring the one and only Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill), they came to share the origins of the show and a bit about their collective theatrical paths.  The show will be playing 3 nights in February 2018 at the NYU Skirball Center, and tickets are going fast!

Founded in 2007 during their days of club-hopping, Jennings and McMahon began

Dublin, and Ireland itself, is changing and they want to present something that shows the tides of the times. 

THISPOPBABY to present theatrical pieces in club settings.  Eventually they went on to present more elaborate pieces in tents at popular music festivals, widening their audiences and allowing them the draw to be able to present in theatres.  RIOT is the ultimate culmination of these efforts and played sold out runs at the Spiegeltent and Vicar Street in Dublin last year to great critical acclaim.

I’ve met Philly McMahon a number of times with Panti over the past few years, and he has been the co-writer and director of her show “High Heels in Low Places“, hence Panti’s involvement as the Ring Leader in this new show.

They talked a bit about the formation of that show and how a lot of it was shaped by the after-math of Panti-gate and the Marriage Referndum campaign. (more…)

Dylan Moran’s Wit and Wisdom at Theater 80

How it’s New York: Theater 80 is in New York’s East Village
How it’s Irish: Dylan Moran was born and raised in Navan, Co. Meath

Dylan Moran ended a 4-night run at theater 80 in the East Village on Saturday night, which I was lucky enough to attend. In short, my body heaved with laughter, a sure sign of a successful performance.
His big themes were politics, family, middle-age, millennials, technology, and the past, with a scattering of comparisons between New York, England and his native Ireland. (more…)

‘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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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.

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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…)