Michelle Woods finds The Parting Glass a smooth sip of reality

How It’s New York: The Parting Glass is playing at the Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village. One of the characters, onstage in an imaginary urn (he’s dead!), was an illegal Irish immigrant in New York.

How It’s Irish: Dermot Bolger is one of Ireland’s leading playwrights and writers. Anyone who “Olé, Olé, Olé’d” in the 1980s and 1990s will know A Parting Glass speaks to recent Irish cultural history.
Ray Yeates (Tom Lawlor)
The problem with the Irish, Eoin’s German-born son Dieter tells him, is that you’re 

“so desperate to belong and so desperate to escape”.

Eoin (Owen) and Dieter, along with all the other characters, are played magnificently by Ray Yeates (seamlessly directed by Mark O’Brien) in Dermot Bolger’s tart, funny and tragic cri de coeur about the financial crash and Irish soccer, A Parting Glass

 The play, presented by Dublin’s Axis: Ballymun Theatre, is now running at the Barrow Street Theater as part of Imagine Ireland’s (a program of Culture Ireland) year-long celebration of Irish Arts.  The play runs until July 31st only (details below).

Go and see it. 
If you’ve any inkling of the Irish international soccer hopes and crashes (“the economy soared, Irish football collapsed”) and the plain Irish hopes and crashes (“we were every multinational’s rogue state”) over the last few decades, it’ll make you cry with laughter and, well, cry.
I won’t soon forget the woman two chairs to my side gasping in physical horror at some of it and the tenderness of Bolger and his two young adult sons in the next row as they watched.  

The play tells the story of an Irish son who has emigrated in the 80s and moved back, only to face the prospect of losing his own grown son, Dieter, to emigration.  Much of it is set “on the night Thierry Henry’s left hand dashed Ireland’s World Cup dreams”. The cycle of hope and failure, meshed in with that of hopes for various international soccer play-offs (“there’ll always be another play-off”), rips through the millennial myths of the auld sod.

Ray Yeates (Tom Lawlor)

Eoin left for Hamburg in the 1980s (Bolger wrote an earlier play about that called In High Germany).  He returns to Ireland with his German wife Frieda and his son only to find that “you should never return.” Celtic Tiger Ireland is “somewhere else,” “a pandemic of SUVs” where “all the women have turned blonde”; the new estates sprawling out of the city look like “they were dropped from space.” 

His bank manager persuades him to buy a house, making him feel like an idiot for not having done it already, “the last monk outside the roundtower before the Vikings attacked.” The fateful decision to return, partly out of guilt for his sickening mother, was made by Frieda, who still after 18 years “oozes sex” for Eoin and “smells vaguely Lutheran.” Proposing to Frieda, he called himself a “clodhopper” and had to explain the word:

“it’s like a grasshopper with hobnail boots and a Mayo accent.”

Though at points tragic, the play bursts with beautiful writing and great one-liners, both melancholy and funny. Mailed the ashes of one of his two childhood friends, Mick, Eoin puts them in the spare room and Dieter’s girlfriend objects:

“He’s 50, gay and cremated,” Eoin says, “how safe does a girl need to be?”

At the Stade de France in 2009, he meets up with the other friend, Shane. Eoin, Shane, Dieter and the ashes get into trouble and form “a standard defensive line” (i.e. for an Irish international soccer team):

“two over the hill, one foreign accent and one dead.”

At the pub beforehand, Eoin asks for “2 pints and a glass of water” pointing at the urn “he’s a bit dry”. Of his childhood friends, Eoin says:

“the point of old friends is you don’t have to talk to them.”

Eoin’s one-night stand with a woman (following his wife’s sudden death) whose furniture in her Financial District flat is “so minimalist it’s barely there” asks him not to say anything about his past and has one of the loveliest lines:

“Let’s have one night when we’ve failed at nothing.”

Ray Yeates (Tom Lawlor)

Failure is, of course, what the Irish are good at. I mean that as a compliment. A world obsessed by success soon forgets it’s human. The magic of the Irish football team in my youth (1988-1994) was that they were pretty crap, kind of knew it, and still managed some great matches. 

Having since, by marriage, become a Mets fan, this – what? – hopey painy thing? – can feel eerily similar. Bolger quotes the great Liverpool FC manager, Bill Shankly, in the program: “Football’s not a matter of life and death: It’s more important.” I had actually quoted it to my husband the night before when the Mets lost.
The hope of that time, the against-the-odds nature of it, soured in the Celtic Tiger when everything was on steroids especially the lying (politicians, church, bankers, but, most of all, ourselves) and the lies became delusional. The humor in A Parting Glass coats its anger with a translucent wing.   Ray Yeates looked emotionally wrecked when I saw him in the lobby after the play. I was with him there. 

At the Barrow Street Theatre; 27 Barrow St., NYC (at Christopher and Seventh).  Wed. – Fri. 9, Sat. 2:30 and 9, Sun. 5.   Get tickets online or at SmartTix,  212-868-4444

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Gwen reviewed an earlier incarnation of this play last year for Back Stage.  Read it here.

About the Author


  1. Avatar
    Lucy HK / July 24, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Michelle, I love the “hopey painy thing’; I think this says it all really!

  2. Avatar
    Jim Jermanok / July 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    This play is not to be missed. Funny and moving–a rare combination. I’m seeing for a second time this week.

Comments are closed.