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‘The course of true love never did run smooth’

POSTED ON August 12th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

cathy kelly

Cathy Kelly likely didn’t set out to knock J.K. Rowling and her “Harry Potter” series or Dan Brown of “The Da Vinci Code” fame off of the UK bestsellers’ list. But that’s precisely what happened about 10 years ago.

Kelly, an Irish story-teller in the tradition of the late Maeve Binchy, started on the road to success with her first book, “Woman to Woman,” in 1997. Her fourth, “Someone Like You,” won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2001.

“’It Started With Paris,’” she said of her latest, “is about what happens to everyone else in both families when one couple get engaged on top of the Eiffel Tower.   There’s the mother thrown into spending time with her ex-husband, and the cake-maker who wonders if she can have love at someone else’s expense and the teenage girl caught in the middle of an embryonic stepfamily crisis.”

Woman called it “an uplifting tale,” while essentialsmagazine.com said, “It’s a beautifully written book that’s filled to the brim with human emotion.” Woman Magazine added: “The course of true love never did run smooth, and Cathy Kelly takes us on a bumpy journey brimming with life lessons. Full of relatable and lovable characters, this is a heart-warming novel. Will true love prevail? Tissues at the ready!”

The UNICEF Ireland ambassador herself usually has anti-inflammatory gel at the ready, as well as caffeine. “I can’t start the day without strong coffee, 20 minutes of reading and adoration from my three small dogs,” said Kelly, whose other loves include yoga, ethnic jewelry and art.

Cathy Kelly

Place of birth: Belfast.

Spouse: John Sheehan.

Children: Twin sons, Dylan and Murray

Residence: Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow

Published works: I’ve written 16 novels, including my latest, “It Started With Paris,” as well as a collection of short stories.

book cover

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

After taking my sons to school, I foother (Irish vernacular: meander/mess around) for about half an hour,  make coffee, head into the study, try to avoid the lure of email, and then reread whatever I wrote yesterday. I edit a lot. Non-ideal conditions are when I have to write something non-book, which takes my mind in an entirely different direction. I try to write until I pick my sons up from school. Then, I decompress, hear about their days, and either help with homework or do emails. Or go on Pinterest and look at cute pictures of dogs/yoga moves/crocheted things.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read, read and then read some more. Practice the skill of writing. Write the book that’s in you and not the book you think either the publishers or critics will like. From the heart is the way to go. Seeing dollar signs will get you one book contract but probably not two.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure. 

I’ll never forget the thrill of reading Colette for the first time when I was about 17: Cheri and The last of Cheri.  Same with Alexandre Dumas: I was 14 and at home from school “sick.”

‘’I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou was so memorable the first time I read it and bizarrely, I don’t know when that was. It feels like I’ve always had that book in my head.

What book are you currently reading?

Elin Hilderbrand’s “The Rumor” – I got an early reading copy.  She’s brilliant.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

Too many to mention, really. When I’m writing and I read the back of the cereal packet, the copy on the packet sounds better than what I am currently writing. The inner critic is like the Mama Alien in “Aliens.” I need Sigourney Weaver to go at her with a flame thrower.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

I always start reading hopefully. I think reading with the assumption that the book will be hopeless is a wildly depressing and negative view.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Lovely Maya Angelou for her wisdom.

What book changed your life?

Probably the first one of mine I had to courage to send off. I still don’t know where I summoned that courage up and that book changed my life. I was a working journalist who’d always wanted to write and suddenly, I had a three-book deal.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Apart from where I live, I love a place called Ardmore in County Waterford, which is mystical, plus has a really nice five-star hotel called The Cliffhouse. So you can be mystical in comfort and have hot stone massages while thinking about pagan holy wells.

You’re Irish if…

You simply can’t sit on a train or a bus without talking to someone, anyone. We like to talk.

 

IAC unveils fall-winter season

POSTED ON August 11th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Maeve Higgins Comedian. Pic Bryan Meade 10/1/2012

Maeve Higgins will host “One Night in Heaven.”

 

Orla O’Sullivan

letters@irishecho.com

More laughs, more commissions and more collaborative ventures are coming from the Irish Arts Center over the next few months.

The newly released fall and winter line-up includes a monthly talk show by comedian Maeve Higgins, who made her New York debut at the IAC last year. Higgins’s show, “One Night in Heaven” (Oct. 20, Nov. 17 and Dec. 15) is in addition to the long-running monthly stand-up comedy show, “Sundays at Seven.”

The two plays coming to the IAC this fall are in on the joke, in that both are comedies. And there’s a Cobh connection, too.

The Cork port town, from which many Irish immigrants set out before air travel, is home to both Higgins and Pat Kinevane, who returns to the IAC with another one-man show, “Underneath.”

Again, marginalized people take center stage in Kinevane’s writing. This time, it’s the darkly comic tale of a disfigured woman, speaking from her grave (and Cobh) in a work described by the Irish Times as “almost a masterpiece.” Kinevane last displayed his many talents at the IAC two years ago in “Silent.”

Pat Shortt, best known to many Irish audiences for his television comedies, was last here on Broadway for.

“The Cripple of Inishmaan” with Daniel Radcliffe. He will kick off the IAC’s 22-week season on Sept. 10 with a three-week run of “Selfie,” his one-man comedy. That runs at the Center’s Hell’s Kitchen location while other events are off-site. Meantime, Shortt is currently touring Australia, where “Selfie” is said to be selling out.

The off-site events are part of a major expansion plan announced by the IAC last year that is not limited to its physical premises on West 51st Street. The center aims to be more collaborative and multi-cultural, which it projects will double its audience by the end of next year.

The new philosophy is apparently embodied in the two works the IAC commissioned this season. One by Jean Butler of “Riverdance” fame has, unusually, choreographer and composer (cellist Neil Martin) on stage together. “This is an Irish Dance” runs at Danspace in New York in November and then goes on to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, next spring.

The other is a play commissioned by the IAC for the Dublin Theatre Festival—a first—that is not even slated to run in New York. However, it’s a fair bet thatChekhov’s Last Play” will make it over after the fall season considering that its producers brought the multi-award winning “Lippy” from Dublin to New York last year in association with the IAC.

Another Irish theatre group returning to the U.S. with the IAC is Landmark Productions. They co-staged the hit play, “Howie the Rookie,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last December.

The collaboration returns to Brooklyn this year, but on this occasion to St. Ann’s Warehouse, for a new opera composed by Donnacha Dennehy, written by Enda Walsh, and presented as part of the Prototype operatic theatre festival.

Musical and literary events also mark the calendar, including the family favorite “An Irish Christmas,” held annually at Symphony Space, and “Muldoon’s Picnic” the monthly evening event presided over by poet Paul Muldoon that is billed as an “omninum gatherum” of words and music. Expect work inspired by World War I from Declan O’Rourke and Myles Dungan.

On a lighter note, presumably, will be a daylong festival of children’s literature. The IAC says that the Rí Rá Children’s Festival of Literature on Sunday, Oct. 4, will be a first.

The Atlantic PoetryFest, featuring poets for grown-ups from Ireland and the U.S., returns to the IAC this season, as does the Songlives singer-songwriter series.

Full details of the Irish Arts Center’s new season, running from Sept. to February, as well as tickets for these events, can be obtained at irishartscenter.org. Telesales from ovationtix, (866) 811-4111. The IAC is located at 553 West 51st St., New York, N.Y.

 

‘Maestro’ documents superb Bobby Casey

POSTED ON August 10th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Bobby Casey

By Daniel Neely

letters@irishecho.com

 

There is scarcely a traditional musician who hasn’t been touched by the magisterial playing of the great fiddler Bobby Casey. His tone, the nuances in his phrasing, and his repertory of tunes are fabled, and the prospect of a well-curated and lovingly restored album of his work is enough to excite even the most curmudgeonly of musicians. And surely, the curiosity of many was piqued when a new album called “Maestro: The Music of Bobby Casey” was launched at the Fleadh Nua in Ennis earlier this year. Comprised mostly of solo fiddle playing, “Maestro” does not disappoint. Not only is it a deeply satisfying album to listen to, it’s historically significant; the album you hand a friend when they express a curiosity for Irish music, but say they only want to hear the “real” stuff.

Casey was born in Annagh, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, in 1926 and had an extraordinary musical upbringing in an extraordinarily musical place. His father, Scully Casey, was a legendary fiddler, as was his neighbor, the great Junior Crehan, from whom he also learned. But Casey was lucky, as his peer group at home included the likes of Martin Talty, Paddy Canny, P.J. Hayes and Martin Rochford (to name only a few), all of whom were also important foundational musicians. Then, when Casey moved to Dublin in the early 1950s, he went with the profoundly influential Willie Clancy (they were flatmates) and the two spent their time playing with storied individuals like concertina and fiddle player John Kelly, the fiddler Joe Ryan and the Potts family of musicians.

Shortly thereafter, Clancy and Casey moved to London. While Clancy’s visit was short, Casey hung on, started a family and stayed for over 40 years. In London, he played with the finest musicians around, people like uilleann piper Tommy McCarthy, fiddler Martin Byrnes, flute player Roger Sherlock, box player Raymond Roland, banjo driver Liam Farrell and fiddle man Brendan Mulkere (again, to name but a few) and his music became better known through albums like “Paddy in the Smoke,” “Taking Flight,” and “Casey in the Cowhouse,” all of which are considered classics.

Casey died in 2000 in Northamptonshire, central England, a profound influence on Irish music and “Maestro” documents his brilliant legacy in the most reverent and respectful of ways. Comprised of recordings housed by the Comhaltas Archive (archive.comhaltas.ie), it was produced and released by Cois na hAbhna Archive (Comhaltas Ceoiltóirí Éireann’s regional base in Ennis) from recordings that were created over a 25 year span, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. All have been wonderfully restored and mastered to the highest possible standard and showcase Casey’s music marvelously.

It impossible to say much about the individual tracks because every single one is a five-star gem. For example, I think “Tuttles / Porthole Of The Kelp” is outrageously good, and find “Colonel Fraser” and “Miss McDonald / Up To Your Knees In Sand” (with John Kelly Sr. and Joe Ryan) similarly outstanding, but much of this comes down to personal taste. Ultimately, there’s just a lot of music to enjoy here – 18 tracks, to be exact. Casual listeners will be captivated by Casey’s energy, while those with a more musicianly ear will revel in his phrasing and ornamentation.

The liner notes that come with the CD are quite nicely written and include lovely tributes from John Kelly, Angela Casey, Brendan Mulkere, Paddy Ryan and Michael Falsey. I do wonder why Cois na hAbhna did not include archival information about where and when each track was recorded. (Three tracks, for example, sound like ones that appeared on the long out-of-print LP “Ceol An Clare.”) It’s an unfortunate oversight, but not one that will detract anyone’s overall enjoyment.

Simply put, “Maestro: The Music of Bobby Casey” is superb, brilliant and important album documenting one of the music’s superior players. Casey’s playing has never sounded better and the selection of tracks is outstanding. This is a must-have for fiddle players and people from Clare, but it is recommended very highly to anyone who loves traditional Irish music. For more information, visit Cois na hAbhna Archive, www.coisnahabhna.ie.

Daniel Neely writes on traditional music every week in the Irish Echo.

Much more than a Fab Four knockoff

POSTED ON August 7th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

o emperor

Waterford’s O Emperor.

 

By Colleen Taylor

letters@irishecho.com

Teenage boys do more in high school than fall asleep in class: sometimes they form some pretty amazing bands. O Emperor is a five-piece rock band out of Waterford that started playing together early on in secondary school. The group is made up of musicians Alan Comerford, Brendan Fennesssy, Paul Savage, Phil Christie and Richie Walsh. They describe themselves as a collective mixing different genres and musical influences into one overarching rock sound—a self-aware estimation. What I like about this band is their soft approach to electro-rock music.

Comerford, Fennessy, Savage, Christie and Walsh burst onto the scene in Ireland in 2010 with the release of their hit debut “Hither Thither.” The album was shortlisted for Choice Music Prize’s Irish album of the year—an impressive feat for a first attempt at recording. Soon the tracks off the album were making their way east and west to BBC and NPR radio. Since their auspicious beginning in 2010, O Emperor has appeared at the leading Irish musical festivals like Longitude and Electric Picnic and opened for MGMT and Villagers.

O Emperor sound like the Beatles might if they had formed 50 years later. (They look like them too.) One of their biggest hits, “Sedalia,” a ballad-like piano track, reminisces as Lennon reincarnated with a modern twist. There is a real sense of harmonization in their tracks overall, as well as a subtle attention to guitar notes that is not overwhelming to the ears. Their music is just plain pleasing to listen to—peppy but not stressfully energetic. O Emperor offers a traditional take on rock music, but they don’t shy away from some alternative and electro ornamentation either: they seem to be grounded fully in past and present music.

Their latest work is a 2014 full-length album, “Vitreous,” which had been greatly anticipated in Ireland since their emergence on the scene five years ago. The album sounds like a cohesive sequel to their first work. There’s not much wildly inventive or different about this next edition, but it remains excellent alternative rock music: soft, easy, well-executed. One of my favorites is “Holy Fool,” a solid rock single that preceded the full album release and was popularly received across the Atlantic. A couple of the tracks on the new album, ones like “This Is It” and “Brainchild,” foray into the electro side of the band’s genealogy and identity moreso than the rock half, offering some interesting variety and demonstrating that O Emperor has—despite initial impressions—evolved and changed since their conception. It’s not just 21st Century Beatles all the way through (although that would be just fine by me as well). “Land of the Living” is a playful, easygoing track that echoes something like “All You Need Is Love.” Rather than being a tiresome reprise of one of rock music’s most beloved classics, O Emperor offer something refreshing: a return to what works what it comes to great music. Rock music doesn’t need to be all spinning disks and reverberation: a good, careful bridge, chorus, and a flourish of musical ornamentation and are sometimes all it takes, as O Emperor show. The classic sound can go a long way in music today.

The Waterford group just finished up a slew of gigs in Ireland, including a performance in Dublin at Workman’s Pub and an appearance at the Roisin Dubh for the Galway Arts Festival. They’re staying on the home turf for the forseeable future, with a festival show in Monaghan lined up in August, but perhaps the new album will bring them across the Atlantic soon.

Check out O Emperor’s album “Vitreous” for a simultaneously nostalgic and modern rock music experience. More at: oemperor.com.

Colleen Taylor writes the “Music Notes” column in the Irish Echo each week.

Trump and the Irish

POSTED ON August 6th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott

J._F._Fitzgerald[1]

John F. Fitzgerald. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

One of the big stories of the past few weeks has been Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants in general and Jeb Bush’s wife in particular.

Someone would have to be living without electricity in the Adirondacks to not know that this brouhaha has pushed the billionaire to the front of the GOP 2016 primary field.

Naturally, we here at the Echo are hard at work looking for the Irish angle. He does own that golf course in County Clare, which is a good start. And his mother was a Scottish immigrant – so there’s that, if Pan-Celticism is your thing.

But here’s what we’re really interested in: given that political figures will bend over backwards to patronize someone’s identity, just how might The Donald himself pitch an appeal based upon a voter’s heritage? We can’t help feel it would be open to ridicule, at the very least. Because if you’re Irish, to take the example close to hand, you couldn’t be unaware that your group was the victim of Trumpism in its earlier manifestations.

The upside of this for his admirers, however, is that the targeting of an immigrant group is as American as apple pie, especially if that group is rapidly growing in numbers and can be depicted as criminally-inclined.

Inevitably, this is a theme that former Boston Globe reporter Gerard O’Neill considers in his very interesting history, “Rogues and Redeemers: When Politics Was King in Irish Boston.”

Early on in his story, the Irish population of Boston exploded from one in 50 to one in four. “Mortified Yankees found themselves stepping over or dodging drunken immigrants in the once safe and sedate streets of Boston,” O’Neill writes. “It became the core of the Yankees’ overly broad case against the Irish – that they were shiftless drunkards who were a dead weight on the tax base, now stretched to pay the ever-expanding police and fire and hospital budgets.”

He quotes the Harvard historian and notorious anti-Semite Henry Adams writing in later years to a friend: [P]oor Boston had run up against it in the form of its particular Irish maggot, rather lower than the Jew, but with more or less the same appetite for cheese.”

O’Neill tells how the Irish became organized enough over the decades to challenge for political power. Along the way, a couple of Irish-born pols made it to mayor with Yankee approval. Then in 1905, a product of the ghetto, John F. Fitzgerald, ascended to the office on his own terms, only to be succeeded by another, James Curley, in 1914.

During a stint in Congress in the 1890s, Fitzgerald, known as “Honey Fitz,” had opposed the growing movement to restrict immigration with literacy-test trickery.

Taking the other side was Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a friend of Adams and a fellow historian. (Fitzgerald and Lodge’s grandsons would face off in a Senate race in 1952 and were on the opposing tickets in the 1960 presidential election.)

Cabotlodgenationalportrait

Henry Cabot Lodge. NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

Says O’Neill: “Taking the measure of the burgeoning Irish in Boston, [Lodge] decided that they could stay in his country, but Italians and Jews had to go. They were the new indigestibles, and Lodge began his first push for the literacy testing…”

The issue of crime was raised time and again from the early 1880s. The New York Times warned in 1884 that brigandage had been until recently the “national industry” of Italy’s Southern provinces.

“It is not strange that these immigrants should bring with them a fondness for their native pursuits,” the Times writer said. “A band of brigands would find the rookeries of Mulberry Street much more comfortable than the Calabrian forests, and much safer. The brigands, when pursued by the police, could pass from roof to roof, lie in ambush behind chimneys, defend narrow scuttles against a vastly superior force, and finally make their escape with much greater ease than could a band surrounded in an Italian forest by a regiment of troops. When brigandage becomes fully organized here wealthy citizens will constantly be captured and held for ransom.” (Salvatore J. LaGumina has a book full of this kind of stuff in “Wop! A Documentary History of Anti-Italian Discrimination.”)

Italian-Americans have been battling mafia and brigandage stereotypes in the 125 years since. Such efforts are never easy. And actual facts don’t help much – such as the one pointed out by a U.S. correspondent in the Daily Telegraph, a conservative London broadsheet: the percentage of non-citizens in U.S. prisons is lower than the percentage of non-citizens in the population as a whole. For it’s never really about crime or the legal status of someone seeking available work in a job market. Rather, it’s: “They’re not like us and would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to assimilate” or “They’ll drag our civilization down to their level.”

O’Neill reproduces a conversation that Fitzgerald recalled he had with Senator Lodge (quite possibly invented, though it did encapsulate their views).

Lodge: “You are an impudent young man. Do you think the Jews and the Italians have any right in this country?”

Fitzgerald: “As much as your father or mine. It was only a difference of a few ships.”

Eventually, Lodge’s side had its way with the Immigration Act of 1924. But, in the category of revenge is a dish best served cold, 90 years on, there is an Italian/Jewish majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. We might reasonably speculate, then, that one day – after Trump has joined Ozymandias in antiquity – children and grandchildren of today’s undocumented immigrants will be appointed to that august tribunal.

 

NYC Ireland crowned champs

POSTED ON August 5th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

champions

NYC Ireland celebrate victory in the

Cosmos Copa at Shuart Stadium.

PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

 

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

 

NYC Ireland are top of the world.

The boys in green emerged the victors in Big Apple’s 32-nation Cosmos Copa after a pulsating 3-2 final against Colombia in Shuart Stadium, Hofstra University, Sunday night.

“Nail-biting” was the summary from the NYC Ireland Head Coach Austin Friel.

Beaten by Albania in the inaugural 2009 final and semifinalists in 2010 and 2014, it was with a perceptible sigh of relief that the Irish claimed the title at last. The weight of expectation had been fully felt throughout the 90-plus-minute game.

“Our lads were suffering from nerves a bit,” Friel said. “They weren’t playing to their full abilities. And the Colombians were very disciplined.

“But fair play to them. They stuck with it,” he added about his men. “They gave up their weekends and trained hard to get this. They deserve it.”

The win was courtesy of a late, coolly-taken penalty by Ian Sweeney. The other four goals came in the first half with the Colombians drawing first blood, via a 10th-minute penalty by Christian Turizo. Ireland responded within five minutes. Conor Hunter, a veteran of several previous campaigns, headed over the line amidst frantic goalmouth action.

Ireland then took the lead with the best goal of the game. The move began with a dead ball on the right and ended with captain Sean Kelly shooting low and hard inside the box beyond goalie Oswaldo Herrera’s outstretched right arm. But the flight of a long-range speculative effort by Kevin Corea beat the other goalie Alex Condell and brought Ireland back down to Earth.

Kickoff was officially scheduled for 7:45 at Shuart, after New York Cosmos had finished their 2-0 win over Fort Lauderdale Strikers (kickoff 5 p.m.). The 4,000 crowd thinned out, leaving behind several hundred Irish and Colombian fans. A good-natured, family atmosphere also remained for the final of what has become the top amateur competition (with plenty of pro and semi-pro experience in the mix) in New York City. It’s tag-lined “the World’s Game in the World’s City.”

Ireland had arrived at the Hofstra complex unbeaten. They drew their opening group game 1-1 against Paraguay, before beating Japan 6-2 and Jamaica 1-0 over the July Fourth weekend. NYC Ireland then bested NYC Senegal 2-1 in the Round of 16, had the biggest margin of victory in the quarters with a 2-0 win over Ukraine and in the semis squeezed by last year’s champions Gambia, prevailing 5-4 on penalties, after a scoreless game.

“Unfortunate.” That was veteran Irish coach Paddy Diamond’s verdict on the opening penalty Sunday night. And the half-time consensus in the Irish dug-out was that defensive lapses had led to Colombia’s two. “Two very soft goals,” said one member of the entourage.

Colombia lost a man to a red card early in the second half, but it was clear that one substitution was working in their favor – new goalie Manuel Elijaek was proving himself to be a real star. He had an ally in the woodwork, which was struck in two separate attacks in the 63rd minute.

The NYC Ireland managers spent much of their effort in calming down their charges. Colombia had 10 men and only patience, not rushing, would work the advantage for Ireland.

“We have 25 minutes,” shouted Ian Woodcock.

When the penalty came and was converted, Colombia’s coach was not at all happy with the linesman who made the call. He confronted the official and was eventually ejected from the field of play. From the beyond the barrier, he shouted at the Irish dugout: “You have a good team. You can win without help!”

Friel repaid the compliment. “Colombia didn’t deserve to lose,” he said. A magnanimous assessment, perhaps, given his team had the lion’s share of the shots on target.

“But we’ll take the win,” he added with a smile.

Dad puts love into perspective

POSTED ON August 3rd  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Theatre Review / By Sean Williams

 

dreamer

Lauren Nicole Cipoletti (Donna), Dennis Parlato (Dad) and Shane Patrick Kearns (Tommy) in a scene from “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow.”
PHOTO: NATALIE ARTEMYEFF

 

The Attic Theater Company’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow” is an ambitious, if sometimes philosophically muddled play that is at once soul-searching and bewildering. The dialogue-driven work features a small cast—three people—and a large amount of metaphor. Set in a pair of squalid city apartments, “Dreamer” attempts to untie the parallel shoestrings of fate and romance in long-winded argument. The two pitfall-friendly protagonists in this performance are Tommy (Shane Patrick Kearns) and Donna (Lauren Nicole Cipoletti), on-and-off again lovers who try to reconcile their mutual existential crisis.

This is the second revival of a play that was first staged off-Broadway in late 1986, not long before its author’s success with “Moonstruck,” for which he won a screenwriting Oscar. The Bronx native Shanley is also closely associated with the play “Doubt,” which garnered him a Pulitzer and a Tony. He went on to direct Meryl Streep and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film version. His most recent work for the stage was “Outside Mullingar,” set in his father’s County Westmeath.

The Laura Braza-directed “Dreamer,” in contrast, opens in Tommy’s disheveled apartment, where the one defining feature is a crude, harsh self-portrait painting on the wall. Almost immediately Donna bursts in, and interrogates a drunken Tommy about dating her sister, robbing his own mother and other morally questionable activities.

The first act starts a bit slowly, as the dialogue throws the audience into the action without any background context, and a lot of it doesn’t help elaborate on the situation. There’s a lot of “I thought you loved me” talk, which is naturalistic but doesn’t help anchor the play in a scene the audience can understand. The first act closes even more bewilderingly, with Tommy delivering a lonely monologue, complete with hellish visions of his existence, to his open refrigerator.

Tommy is a beer-drinking bum who struggles to match his ethical standards with his actions. Kearns plays the part as a dopey loser, overmatched by Donna’s screechy wit. Shanley seems to have issues pairing his own eloquence with the intellect of his characters. Both Tommy and Donna will go from simplistic cursing to prolonged metaphor. The playwright is trying too hard, perhaps, when he has Donna say things like “my eyes are like the size of two dark pools of matter in the middle of an endless night.” The unorthodox monologue segments are sometimes poignant and sometimes overdrawn, but even the clumsier monologues do fit into the bizarre world of the play.

The play’s surrealistic weirdness comes to an apex in this first act, as Donna’s father (Dennis Parlato) appears in the second act to ground the play in a heart-to-heart that isn’t completely metaphysical. Parlato delivers a great performance as a cynical, heartbroken widower whose interests don’t extend much further than his glass of whiskey. His curiosity is only piqued by Donna’s assertion that Tommy is a younger version of himself, a statement that begins to glue the play’s philosophical structure together. Tommy’s similarities to “Dad” reflect the churning and inescapable nature of fate and time, where Donna’s unwilling attraction to Tommy mirrors her dead mother’s attraction to Dad.

Cipoletti commands the stage as Donna, largely due to her brash New York accent and fluttery gestures. Unlike Tommy and Dad, she appears in every act and is rather more sympathetic as a character than Tommy.

Dad then confronts Tommy, and the play ties together as these similar characters talk about their problems with love and honesty.

The play takes a while to get going, but once the third character is introduced, the conversations between Tommy and Donna in the first act have more substance in retrospect. Dad grounds the play with his experience and didactic wit, while his explanations reveal Shanley’s cyclical thesis.

“The Dreamer Examines His Pillow” is at once strange and simple. Its stories of will and love, wrapped up in the obfuscating language of personal doubt, are sure to resonate with almost any audience member. The play – though it has its flaws – concludes as a relatable, satisfying thought piece on the nature of our relationships and quest for perfection.

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow” runs through Aug. 15 at the Flea Theater 41 White St., (between Broadway & Church Streets) in Downtown Manhattan. For information about tickets, go to www.theflea.org.

 

Elkins week has impeccable rep

POSTED ON July 31st  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

Augusta Week 2-060

Máirtín de Cógáin (standing) teaching

bodhrán at Augusta Irish Week.

PHOTO: ANDREW CARROLL

 

By Daniel Neely

letters@irishcho.com

There’s nothing like a solid week of traditional Irish music to cleanse the soul. I’ve just returned from the small Davis & Elkins College campus in Elkins, W.V., where I’ve been enjoying the crack at Augusta Irish Week 2015. Since 1982, which is when Mick Moloney first worked with the Augusta Heritage Center to add Irish music to its programming, Elkins, WV, has been an important place for Irish music lovers. Located in the beautiful and remote Appalachian mountains, it is the oldest teaching week in the U.S. and is a wonderful place with an impeccable reputation for music.

As the Irish Week’s artistic coordinator, it’s my job to sing the staff’s praises. But in truth and in fact, we had an incredible crew this year whose great chemistry fueled a rewarding week. It’s hard to argue when you have a staff of superb performer/teachers that includes Billy McComiskey (button accordion), Padraig McEneany (set dance), Shay Black (English language song), Máirtín de Cógáin (bodhrán), Colin Farrell (fiddle), Bridget Fitzgerald (sean-nós singing), Rose Flanagan (fiddle), Ivan Goff (flute), Brian Miller (guitar and bouzouki), Norah Rendell (whistle), and Shannon Dunne (sean-nós dance mini class); each made a magnificent contribution. So, too, did Matt Mancuso (fiddle), Patrick Doocey (guitar), Joey Abarta (uilleann pipes), and Jackie O’Riley (dance), the week’s staff musicians and dancers. Their presence added immeasurably and galvanized an already powerful lineup.

This year was fuller in spirit than weeks of the recent past. The popular “Ice House” building was once again open and home for some serious sessions. The cool ceili and old time square dances (yes, our old time music brethren got in on the crack) at the newly renovated outdoor pavilion were delightful and well attended. (Padraig McEneany’s calling was a particular attraction.) And the Tuesday and Thursday night concerts were outstanding and attracted warm, appreciative audiences.

The thing that must be said about Irish Week is that the student-teacher ratio favors serious students of the music. The week’s attendees, who came from places like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, Kalamazoo and New York, enjoyed a remarkable level of personal attention and interaction in the classroom and went home absolutely buzzing. This sentiment was captured in “From Augusta: Passing It On During Irish Week,” a brilliant radio piece Andrew Carroll put together for West Virginia Public Broadcasting (wvpublic.org). In it, Carroll spoke to a group of students about the week’s transformative properties and did a fine job of documenting the positive feelings the week is known for. A worthwhile thing to check out!

One of the week’s highlights was the Wednesday night screening of “The Keymaster,” a film documenting the life and work of the great flutemaker Patrick Olwell, who was on hand to field questions from a most appreciative audience. (Incidentally, “The Keymaster” is available to view online on demand through Vimeo.com.) The screening attracted several instrument makers, including the gifted flute maker John Gallagher (gallagherflutes.com), who debuted an interesting C flute, and concertina maker Jeff Thomas (www.thomasconcertinas.com), who let me know he recently made the move into a permanent workshop and that he had just returned from the Willie Clancy Week, where his instruments received a warm and favorable response from folks like Hugh Healey, Edel Fox, Caitlin Nic Gabhann.

The week also featured daily roundtable-style discussions. The most interesting of them was the one that took a frank look at the state of the industry surrounding traditional Irish music. We spoke of the challenges artists who play traditional music face and how to best adjust to a rapidly changing technological landscape. Concert Window was identified as an important asset for artists because of the online broadcasting opportunities it offers (www.concertwindow.com). TradConnect was also discussed, especially its new “Download Center.” Based in Ireland, Tradconnect is a networking and “independent traditional music channel that connects musicians globally.” Its recently launched “Download Center” is a service for artists, presenters and journalists that hosts new releases and gives media figures the world over simultaneous immediate access to the very latest in traditional music via download. The potential it has to create much needed synergy in the Irish music community is stunning and the responses from early adopters are overwhelmingly positive. Artists, presenters and journalists who are interested in learning more (especially those based in the US) should visit tradconnect.com and search “download center.”

There is so much to recommend in a week like this. The friendship, the camaraderie and of course the music are top notch but they’re also an important way of bringing cohesion to the Irish music community – it’s a delight to be a part of it. Augusta Irish Week 2016 will take place July 24-29. For more information, visit augustaheritagecenter.org.

Daniel Neely writes about traditional music in the Irish Echo every week.

‘The Long Way’ is Coronas’ best yet

POSTED ON July 29th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

The Coronas - November 2010. Photo: Dara Munnis

Unusually for an indie band, the Coronas have

recorded versions of their songs in the Irish language.

 

By Colleen Taylor

letters@irishecho.com

 

A corona isn’t just your favorite summer drink—it could be your favorite summer playlist too. “The Coronas” is the name of a Dublin-based rock band with a growing fanbase and a new album release. This group of four (Danny O’Reilly, Conor Egan, Graham Knox and Dave McPhillips) brings youth and vibrancy to Irish music and to modern day rock more generally. Their latest release, “The Long Way,” which hit music stores last year, might be a way to enliven your music library.

The Coronas made a name for themselves in 2007 with the release of their debut album, “Heroes or Ghosts.” Like the best of Dublin’s local talent, they stirred up a buzz at the city’s greatest indie music venue, Whelan’s. At Whelan’s, they not only earned the attention of a number of Dubliner fans, but of 3ú records as well, the independent Irish label that produced their first album the following year. “Heroes and Ghosts” brought the Coronas the attention of music critics and a wider, national fan group, as well as a number of Meteor Award nominations. They followed “Heroes and Ghosts” with an impressive litany of productivity: a new album each couple of years, “Tony Was an Ex-Con” (2009) and “Closer to You” (2011). The latest is the “The Long Way,” and it is without a doubt their best yet.

What distinguishes their sound in 2014 from the earlier albums is a wider range of instrumentalization and harmonization. In the newest album, The Coronas show they aren’t afraid to harmonize, even beautify, their vocals, while maintaining that standard rock foundation. They don’t shy away from quieter, acoustic moments on this album. All in all, it’s made their sound more variable, less strictly rock and more indie-rock. “All the Others” is a particularly good example of the range: it combines a peppy rock chorus, quiet verses, and most importantly, an easy blend of high range vocals and aggressive bass. Some of the songs can sound somewhat similar, even formulaic from time to time, but there are some excellent standouts, and even the repetitive songs are well-executed. At any rate, this band has been noted to be at their best when playing live, and many of these songs are no doubt suited to a live setting. Still, something like “Just Like That” stands out as great track and is reminiscent of earlier ‘90s rock styles. “Get Loose” is the perfect feel-good, energetic song.   It’s the type of song that undoubtedly gets the Coronas’ energized crowds moving.

The band has made a foray into Irish language with their music as well, which is something you don’t often see from an indie rock band. They recorded versions of several of their songs, as Gaeilge, in Irish, for Irish language compilation albums. The best of these is probably “Éist a Ghrá,” or “Listen Dear,” a peppy song that becomes more interesting in the Irish translation. It was released as a bonus track on their sophomore album as well. The Irish version of the title track off their first album is another arguably improved rendition of the English original.

The Coronas divide their time between the UK and Ireland. Both London and Dublin are the band’s urban bases. They have an extensive tour lined up for November, where they’ll be spreading their new work around the UK, from London to Manchester. But the band remains dedicated to their Irish roots, and they recently played a show for the Galway Arts Festival along with other Dublin superstar and bandmember Danny’s sister, Roisin O. At the end of the month, they have a gig lined up in Belfast before they had back to England for a short tour.

I wouldn’t say that the Coronas are breaking radical ground for Irish music—not yet anyway. Still, they are an objectively good rock band writing new original music for an Irish fanbase. At the end of the day, this is simply a talented Irish group that sounds current, modern, and international. Their new album, “The Long Way” is worth a listen—perhaps with a cold corona in hand for the sake of some self-reflective humor.

Colleen Taylor writes the Irish Echo’s “Music Notes” column.

Two great men, two museums in Queens

POSTED ON July 28th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

noguchi collection

Installation view, Permanent

Collection galleries

THE NOGUCHI MUSEUM,

NEW YORK, PHOTO BY TIBO

 

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

 

Isamu Noguchi and Louis Armstrong lived two extraordinary American and international lives in the 20th century. Though their artistic paths did not cross, they are bound by at least one remarkable fact: each man spent his last 27 years building his legacy from a home base in Queens, New York City, and both locations are now acclaimed museums.

In the case of the jazz great, it’s on 107th Street in Corona. He’d asked his wife not long after their marriage during World War II to find a place for them. The devout Catholic Lucille Armstrong chose the neighborhood where she had the strongest roots. She and her husband bought the house at 34-56 107th St. from an Irish family, the Brennans. Louis Armstrong died in his sleep there on July 6, 1971. The house has not been lived in since Lucille died in the 1980s.

In that latter decade, Noguchi opened his “garden museum” on Vernon Avenue, Long Island City, which, though just across the East River from Roosevelt Island and Manhattan, is considered as much off the beaten track as is Corona. Now comprising more than a dozen gallery spaces, it is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Noguchi, who died in Dec. 30, 1988, moved into the neighborhood in 1961. He renovated a two-story redbrick building built in 1927 and later acquired an old factory across the street and the site of a former gas station beside it.

But he spent much of his time traveling, like Armstrong, who was 10 months on the road each year with his band. It was a pattern than began early in life for the sculptor, who was born out of wedlock in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 1904. His father was Yonejiri Noguchi, the first Japanese poet translated into English and his mother Bryn Mawr graduate Leonie Gilmour. Although the sculptor is almost always referred to as Japanese-American, he was biracial. Gilmour was born into a Brooklyn family that was well-connected on her mother’s side, the Smiths, and immigrant on her father’s. He was from Coleraine, in what he likely called County Londonderry.

Leonie and her son was proud of those Irish connections, though the Japanese poet had some of his own, most notably his friendship with W.B. Yeats. Noguchi was an even more intense nationalist than the Irish poet and against the backdrop of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5, he moved back to his homeland. Gilmour followed him in 1906 with their toddler son. And when the poet married a local and started a family in the more traditional way, while building an academic career, the Brooklyn woman stayed on, albeit in the background. In time, Gilmour gave birth to a daughter, with Noguchi as the presumed father. She soon began to feel, however, that there was no real future in Japan for her son Isamu, or Sam, and when he turned 13, she shipped him off to a progressive school in Indiana.

For all the success Noguchi achieved as a sculptor (his best known piece may be “Red Cube” on Broadway in Lower Manhattan), architect, set designer, park builder and garden and furniture designer, he was forever the outsider or saw himself as such, both East and West, and also the “waif” abandoned by a mother to whom he’d had an intense childhood attachment. Nonetheless, the bonds remained strong and it was Gilmour who, against the cliché, pushed her son towards an artistic career when he’d been initially interested in medicine.

Louis_Armstrong_restored

Louis Armstrong in 1952. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

In somewhat of a contrast, Armstrong was raised in abject poverty, never knew his father at all and was literally a waif, in that he was sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs for a relatively minor infraction – shooting a gun in the air on New Year’s Eve. It was there playing for the band that his prodigious talent was first noticed, although earlier he’d gotten his first cornet thanks to a Jewish immigrant family, the Karnofskys, who took him in as a child.

The genius born on Aug. 4, 1901 (his mother told him his birthday was July 4, 1900, an inaccuracy he brought with him to the grave) took the music world by storm in his 20s and is considered the greatest of all jazz musicians by most and even, by some scholars, the most influential musician of the 20th century.

Isamu Noguchi stone hunting for UNESCO, c.1957

Isamu Noguchi stone hunting for the UNESCO Gardens project, circa 1957. PHOTO BY

MIREI SHIGEMORE, COURTESY OF THE NOGUCHI MUSEUM, NEW YORK

The trumpeter, a grandson of slaves, was accepted by white society in a way that few African-Americans were, and abroad he had an audience with the pope and was “wined and dined by all kinds of royalty,” but “regardless of all that kind of stuff, I’ve sense enough to know that I’m still Louis Armstrong — colored.” This may explain why he felt more at home among ordinary folk in a working- to lower-middle-class neighborhood. His wife did the cooking and household work and their only servant was a cleaning woman at weekends.

For the first seven years or so of the Armstrongs’ residency in Corona, Lucille’s mother lived on the 2nd floor of what had been built in 1910 as a two-family home. (The Brennans, who were reportedly at least 12 strong, had needed both levels.) When her mother died, Lucille Armstrong thought it was time to buy a more luxurious residence, one appropriate to her husband’s superstar status. Each time, however, the couple viewed an expensive apartment on Fifth Avenue or some other fashionable address, the man referred to often as Satchmo or Pops would say: “Can we go home, now?”

Home was 107th Street in Queens where the neighborhood kids mobbed the band’s bus when it arrived back following a long tour. And home, too, was Queens generally, where so many jazz musicians lived.

Like Armstrong, Noguchi was a workaholic constantly on the move but, unlike the New Orleans native, he never found domestic peace. He told people that he was at home nowhere and everywhere. While the father admired Yeats, the sculptor son, who got an introduction to the Nobel-winning poet, preferred Joyce, the internationalist.

Back in 2003, the then museum curator Bonnie Rychlak told the Echo that the charming, sometimes demanding man she worked for as a young graduate student in the 1980s never spoke about his mother, his sister, about whom he was very protective, or his former wife, the Japanese actress Yoshiko (Shirley) Yamaguchi. “Unless you asked him very specific questions about them,” she said. The important relationships in his life were a “dark place,” Rychlak added, he preferred not to go to.

The ebullient Armstrong rarely gave the impression that he was in a dark place. His wife Lucille, his fourth, “allowed” him a den, or 2nd floor study, where he collected, indexed and annotated and also recorded conversations, some of them with himself. From there he could hear the voices of the different generations on the street, the “wonderful world” of which he sung — and that wonderful world could, in its turn, hear him play his trumpet, magnificently.

For information about visiting, go to www.noguchi.org or call 718-204-7088 and www.louisarmstronghouse.org or call 718-478-8274.

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