How it’s New York: Tales of immigrants who arrived in New York City.
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.
Hale’s affable narration, informing us of his own ancestry, gives an impression that he spent many hours painstakingly researching his background, a labor of much love, which most likely sent him upon the journey which finished with the writing of this piece. Nestled between his words, were stunning glimpses of the city’s past, brought to life by the energetic performances of his players, in particular Laura Neese, whose dancing had members of the audience standing to watch over the heads of other showgoers, in order to marvel at her footwork.
County Derry’s John Duddy played two roles. The first is a heartbroken immigrant who’d left his beloved behind in Ireland. He was one of the show’s several highlights, including an incredible reenactment of a pivotal scene from one of the most famous Brooklyn-based stories of all-time, “On the Waterfront.”
Duddy and Jack O’Connell portrayed brothers Terry and Charley Malloy, and just for a moment, we were transported back to the troubled, corrupt, murderous days of the waterfront, when shaping up and greasing the right palm was far more essential to a comfortable life than working hard ever was.
Amidst these stunning performances were several musical interludes, with many genres from numerous countries perfectly intertwining to produce atmospheric sounds, reminiscent of the bad old days in New York, and the good people who arrived in the Big Apple, who brought their musical talents, troubled histories and hopeful futures. Artists Niamh Hyland, Walter Parks, Eleanor Dubinsky, Elsa Nilsson, Yuri Juarez, Hector Morales and Mala Waldron provided an international backdrop of musical soundings which kept the piece fluid, moving along at an exciting, yet relaxing pace, and left us eagerly awaiting Hale’s continued narrative. The musical interludes also allowed us to dwell on the perfectly twinned partnership of words and music. One
imagines the more discerning audience members will have left “New York: A Shining Mosaic” prouder of one’s city, glad to have settled here, yet more appreciative of what the previous generation of immigrant to this wonderfully diverse city had experienced.
Had the immigrant moved elsewhere, would he have turned out the same, would he have hustled, shaped-up, starved or soared.
Would he have been a hero, a failure, or even, a contender?