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How it’s New York: Took place in New York City
How it’s Irish: Festival by Irish/American Origin Theatre Company

I always look forward to the turning of the year and the interesting finds from across the pond that Origin Theatre Company brings to their annual Festival.  Now in it’s 11th year, the brainchild of George Heslin and the amazing village of people he has gathered around him, 1st Irish brings us the best of theatre from Ireland, as well as a wealth of pieces crafted by Irish and Irish-American writers here in New York.

Besides the wonderful opening ceremonies, I got to see two of the plays in the festival “The Morning After the Life Before” and “Blueberry Hill” and attended the reading at Ireland House by Emer Martin from her new novel The Cruelty Men.

First up was “The Morning After the Life Before”, written by and starring Ann Blake and Best Actress award winner Lucia Smyth, played for a limited run at the Cell Theatre.

This one-act play is a whimsical and comedic look inside the very volatile and emotional situations that arose around the Marriage Referendum in Ireland in 2017.

Blake’s autobiographical piece, produced by Dublin’s Gúna Nua Theatre was directed in a very open and conversational style by Best Director winner Paul Meade.  The characters danced through the dialogue, using the minimal furniture and props on the stage to transform the scenes and themselves.  Lucia Smyth portraying a number of different roles, slipped on a new accent or character like a pair of kid gloves.  Ann Blake has excellent comic timing and an ability to laugh at herself, while at the same time dealing with important life moments such as accepting her growing relationship, her family’s response to coming out and whether they will accept her eventual marriage to her wife.  It’s always a good sign to me when a play leaves you wanting more, and I certainly will be on the lookout for more of Ann Blake’s writing.

Next up was “On Blueberry Hill” starring Niall Buggy and David Ganly as unlikely cellmates in Fishamble Theatre Company’s production of the Sebastian Barry play.  While dealing with some very unseemly subject matter, murder, self-loathing and guilt, there is a lot of humor.  The two actors primarily deliver monologues that overlap and unfold a tale of lives conjoined by their love and loss of the same man, a lover and a son.

The play built to a point where I began to wonder how they would be able to exist together, given the shared history of anger and grief.  However, they seemed to be ultimately suited to being together, having lost that which mattered most to them, and who better to understand them than each other.

Both actors were excellent and totally focused on their own stories, with simple lighting changes used to shift between them.  It’s still running through this weekend, and I highly recommend getting out to see it!  You can find tickets here: “On Blueberry Hill” tickets

The other event I attended was the reading at Ireland House by a longtime friend Emer Martin, from her new book The Cruelty Men which came out last summer.  While I’m still working my way through the book, I’m thoroughly enjoying her take on the history of the Industrial Schools in Ireland the long-lasting effect on the lives of those who ended up losing huge chunks of their lives there.  She gives a face and voice to the people who were faced with false promises and abhorrent treatment at the hands of people they were supposed to trust.

Emer read with vigor and pathos of the dreams and despair of young girls destined to live out their days doing other people’s washing in the laundries, and the futility of even trying to escape.  Her style is real and raw, and she doesn’t sugar coat what the lives of these people were like.  You can order a copy here on Amazon

The Festival concludes this weekend so rush out and see one of the shows that are still playing and support live theatre!  For all Festival details visit www.origintheatre.org

2019 ORIGIN 1st IRISH AWARDS CEREMONY ON JANUARY 28

(January 28, 2019) The crowd-pleasing rugby play “Alone It Stands” scored Best Production at the 2019 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival’s closing night festivities at The Manhattan Club at Rosie O’Grady’s in Times Square tonight. The locally produced American premiere of “Alone It Stands,” a play with an illustrious production history in Ireland, The West End and elsewhere, was nominated in four categories, and played at 59E59 Theaters.  Two critically acclaimed productions imported from Ireland — “On Blueberry Hill” (at 59E59 Theaters through February 3) and “The Morning After the Life Before” which played at the cell – also had big wins, with “On Blueberry Hill” (produced by Fishamble: The New Play Co in Dublin) earning Best Actor for Niall Buggy and Best Design; and “The Morning After the Life Before” (produced by Dublin’s Gúna Nua Theatre) winning Best Actress for Lucia Smyth, and Best Director for Paul Meade.

Winning Best Playwright was the locally based, Galway-born playwright Ronan Noone for his gripping and gritty one-hander in verse called “The Smuggler.” The Festival’s Special Jury Prize went to Sole Purpose Productions, the Derry Northern Ireland producer of “Blinkered,” for its mission to bring difficult social topics into non-traditional theatre settings.

Fionnula Flanagan, currently on Broadway in “The Ferryman,” was honored with a Special Lifetime Achievement Award given by Origin Theatre Company, producer of the Festival.

This year the Bairbre Dowling Spirit of the Festival Award, given by the Origin Theatre Company’s board of directors, went to Maria Deasy, who starred in and produced Derek Murphy’s comedy “Inside Danny’s Box,” for her tireless work to bring a new play to the stage at the festival. Deasy and Murphy also co-produced last year’s “Dyin’ for It.”

 

This year’s blue-ribbon panel of judges included the actors Jenny Sterlin and Patrick Boll; theatre book publisher Glenn Young, and the casting director Christine McKenna. Local Irish personality Sophie Colgan of the American Irish Historical Society, hosted the Awards Ceremony.

The list of nominees was as follows: Best actress – Lucia Smyth (“The Morning After the Life Before”); Ann Blake (“The Morning After the Life Before”); Gemma Walker-Farren (“Blinkered”), and Maria Deasy (“Inside Danny’s Box”). Best actor – Niall Buggy (“On Blueberry Hill”); Mick Mellamphy (“The Smuggler”); Patrick McBrearty (“Blinkered”); David Ganly (“On Blueberry Hill”).  Best Director – Paul Meade (“The Morning After the Life Before”); David Sullivan (“The Smuggler”); John Breen (“Alone It Stands”), and Lisa Milinazzo (“Inside Danny’s Box”).  Best Playwright – Ronan Noone (“The Smuggler”); Ann Blake (“The Morning After the Life Before”); John Breen (“Alone It Stands”), and Sebastian Barry (“On Blueberry Hill”).  Best Design – “On Blueberry Hill,” “Alone It Stands,” “Inside Danny’s Box.” Best Production — “Alone It Stands,” “On Blueberry Hill,” “The Morning After the Life Before,” and “Blinkered.”

Curated and coordinated by Festival founder George C. Heslin, the 11th annual Origin 1st Irish welcomed and organized 17 productions and special events from Belfast, Derry, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Queens and Manhattan, with six plays in competition vying for jury prizes.  Of the plays, four were American premieres and two were world premieres. Participating venues included 59E59 Theaters (two theaters), the cell, the American Irish Historical Society, Scandinavia House, The NY Irish Center, The Playroom, A.R.T. New York, The Irish Consulate, the Irish Arts Center, and NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House.

15 contemporary Irish writers were represented with work in performance in this festival, which features both acclaimed productions from Ireland and Northern Ireland, and new homegrown projects developed by artists based in New York.

Festival Sponsors

Support for Origin’s 1st Irish Festival in 2019 is generously provided by: Lead Partners: The Government of Ireland, Mutual of America and McVicker & Higginbotham. Title Sponsors: The Northern Ireland Bureau, The Ireland Funds, Tourism Ireland, Bank of Ireland, and Goldman Sachs. Artist Sponsors: Culture Ireland and The Irish Arts Council. Suppporter Sponsors: CIE Tours, The Padded Wagon, TG 4, and JFA Insurance. Season Sponsors: The Delegation of the European Union to the United States, The Italian Cultural Institute, Blooms Tavern, and public funds from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, NY City Council Member Daniel Dromm, and NY State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the NY State Legislature.

Recognized for its focused size, and emphasis on audience engagement through parties, panels and workshops, Origin 1st Irish is New York’s only all-Irish performing arts festival.  Its Next Generation and Breaking Ground series have proven to be launch-pads for new projects developed collaboratively by artists from different cities, that have gone on to further success and acclaim.  In 2015 The NY Times called Origin’s 1st Irish “an important event that offers New York theatergoers the chance to see fascinating new work.”

Since its founding in 2002, Origin has introduced works by 264 playwrights to US audiences, from such countries as the Netherlands, Sweden, Romania, Macedonia, Norway, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

 

 

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