How It’s New York: Dirty Money is set in Woodside, Queens and was performed in a pub on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. 

How It’s Irish: Dirty Money was written by Dubliner Anto Nolan, performed by Corkman Mick Mellamphy at Ryan’s Daughter Irish pub, and dramatizes a tale from the streets of Dublin. 

John Kearns reviews Dirty Money at The Plays Upstairs:

Dirty Money takes the audience on a riveting, wild ride through the plundered laundromat, a house raided by police, and the unforeseen place where money is found for for a new life in America.” 

The run of Dirty Money at Ryan’s Daughter ends on the night of Saturday, September 15th.  To keep up with the productions at Plays Upstairs, “Like” the Ryan’s Daughter Facebook page. 

The Plays Upstairs productions at Ryan’s Daughter bar at 350 East 85th Street (at 1st Avenue) are so Irish and New York that it is impossible to capture these qualities in blurbs like those above.  The simplicity and purity of  Plays Upstairs’ productions, relying on words and acting and very little in the way of lights or sound or sets, carry on the ancient Irish (and human) tradition of storytelling.  The productions in the upstairs party room of the Upper East Side pub also reflect a real New York attitude: let’s not wait for permission or acceptance to perform our work  Let’s do it ourselves!

(Full disclosure, my play, In a Bucket of Blood, was the first play produced at Plays Upstairs back in 2006.)
On Thursday night, I attended Dirty Money, Anto Nolan’s one-man play, featuring Mick Mellamphy, Upstairs at Ryan’s Daughter and, as usual, it was an evening of compelling theatre in a relaxed atmosphere.  You get your pint at the bar, take your seat facing the playing area in front of the window onto 85thStreet, and enjoy the show. 

Dirty Money is part of a series of four one-act plays written by Nolan, who has worked as an actor, playwright, and director for 32 years.  Mellamphy, who frequently appears on stage at the Irish RepertoryTheatre (The Hairy Ape, The Field, Philadelphia, Here I Come), was nominated for a Best Actor award in the 2010 1st Irish Festival for his role in The Prophet of Monto, which he also performed in Dublin in 2011.

From the start, Dirty Money has the audience guessing. Whereas its setting — with its New York payphone, construction tarps and netting, and discarded shopping cart — is distinctly American and New York, its accent is decidedly North Side of Dublin.  Our narrator, Ger, played with passion, conviction, and wonderful comic timing by Mellamphy, tells us he is waiting by the “perfect payphone” for a call from a woman.   

But for the first five minutes we are in the dark as to who the woman is or why this Dubliner is on this rough-looking street in Woodside.  For the next 45 minutes, Ger fills us in on how he found himself in these straits, unraveling a twisting tale about meeting the girl he’s expecting to call and getting the money for a new life in Queens.  

We learn that the woman has kept our man waiting for a long time.  He had started out with 18 cigarettes, has smoked one per hour, and now finds them all gone.  Ger can’t understand why the woman can’t simply call him as he had asked. 

“All she has to do is say, ‘Yes,’” Ger opines, “or … ‘No.’  But as me father used to say.  ‘It’s hard enough to get a woman to do what she wants to do, let alone to get her to do something you want her to do.’”

Back in Dublin, Ger suddenly announces to his father that he is leaving and going to England, though his true destination is where we find him.  He buys a plane ticket and saves it in his sock drawer for a departure time in May.  But, what will Ger do for money once he gets to New York?  He decides to pull a “job,” a robbery in an unexpected place where he wouldn’t “step on any big toes,” as he might at a bank or liquor store.  Ger determines that the dirty money he needs will come in the form of coins spent to clean clothes.  He cases several laundromats until he finds the right one to victimize, then enlists is brother to help him with the planning. 

If all goes as planned, however, Ger will end up with bags full of coins, which are not so easy to take on a plane.  To convert the coins to paper money, he turns to a local, low-level gangster called “Yum Yum ’cause that’s a noise he makes while he eats.”

Mellampy is hilarious portraying the negotiations between Ger and Yum Yum and Ger’s dealings with the gangster’s minions.  Even Susan, the girlfriend he’s expecting to ring the payphone, comes  across vividly as a woman who is at least two steps ahead of Ger as he schemes to give her a lift home on a rainy evening and ask her out.   

As Mellamphy narrates this Dublin backstreet adventure, the playing area in the upstairs party room of Ryan’s Daughter bar becomes Yum Yum’s criminal den, a roof, a ledge of a building, and Mrs. O’Leary’s back garden.  Mellamphy leaps from the abandoned shopping cart, throws himself on the floor, and peers through imaginary windows. 
With the considerable power of Nolan’s taut, energetic, straightforward storytelling and Mellamphy’s vibrant and accomplished acting, Dirty Money takes the audience on a riveting, wild ride through the plundered laundromat, a house raided by police, and the unforeseen place where money is found for for a new life in America. 
In the end, you realize that you never know the background of any character you run across on the streets of New York.  They might have histories you would never imagine.  Likewise, you might not expect to find compelling works of theatre in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Yorkville, but you will — Upstairs at Ryan’s Daughter. 

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One Comment

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    suddey / September 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Cant wait to see this play coming to Dublin. Best of luck to all involved xx

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