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Novelist Kennedy’s still got it

POSTED ON October 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Irish American Writers & Artists cofounder Malachy McCourt, novelist William Kennedy, the New York Times' Dan Barry and IAW&A president Peter Quinn at the ceremony at which Kennedy was honored with the organization's inaugural Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award.

William Kennedy has been writing for a living since the 1950s and became known mainly as a novelist from the 1970s on. Still, despite his many awards, including a Pulitzer, and decades of critical acclaim, it must still be gratifying for him to get great reviews. And they’ve been coming in thick and fast for his latest: “Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes.”

In the New York Times the Sunday before last, the director, screenwriter and actor John Sayles ended his thus:  “Kennedy, master of the Irish-American lament in works like ‘Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game’ and  ‘Ironweed,’ proves here that he can play with both hands and improvise on a theme without losing the beat. At 83 years old, he remains a writer we hope to hear more from.”

Dublin-born Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright, who did our PageTurner column two weeks ago, also got a great review in the same edition of the Times. Novelist Francine Prose said: “Ultimately, ‘The Forgotten Waltz’ evokes Enright’s Irish literary colleagues less than it does a tour de force like Ford Madox Ford’s novel ‘The Good Soldier,’ a book whose narrator has only a partial and flawed idea of the story being told. ‘The Forgotten Waltz’ is a nervy enterprise, an audacious bait-and-switch. Cloaked in a novel about a love affair is a ferocious indictment of the self-involved material girls our era has produced.”

Charity is not enough

The most recent editorial in the Jesuit weekly America begins: “In a now infamous Republican presidential debate, the candidate Ron Paul shrugged off society’s responsibility to care for a hypothetical young man, comatose and declining, who had been too vainglorious to pay for health insurance. ‘That’s what freedom is all about,” Paul said, ‘taking your own risks.’ Should society just let him die? While Paul struggled to respond, members of the audience whooped and cheered. ‘Yes!’ came the answer.”

Paul did say that the churches not government should look after the unfortunate, but the Jesuit magazine’s editors weren’t having any of that.

“The conceit that churches and charities could replace government neatly ignores a few mundane facts about charities and giving. Many church organizations already receive the lion’s share of their budgets from government grants and contracts for services. And many of the clients charities serve are not the kind of people who evoke much sympathy from givers: the chronically unemployed, the disabled and sick, the drug-addicted, the poorly educated and, most poignantly, the children of all of these people. With government out of the way, are most citizens really prepared to open their hearts and wallets to address the many and complex needs of society’s broken and vulnerable people?”

It continued: “And the psychological, even spiritual effects of such a wholesale conversion of government interventions to voluntary services is worth considering. Would it not reduce petitioners for assistance into powerless objects of pity, literally charity cases? Should families bankrupted by a medical crisis, workers driven from their jobs by economic structural changes beyond their control and even people disabled by their addictions have to come hat in hand for handouts? Such a structure degrades human dignity and promotes a smug delusion of autonomy and self-reliance among a patron class of society’s winners, separated from, even pitted against, those in need.”

After a discussion on the appropriate role of government, the editorial concluded: “The Catholic tradition, in fact, maintains an affirmative view of the positive role of government in addressing needs that have not been satisfied by the market system. And from this perspective the church accepts a collaborative, supplemental function with government, not replacing it or standing as a counterforce to it.

“We all share responsibility for the common good. It is an obligation we can partly meet through our government – a higher association of our neighbors and friends and family, acting on behalf of all.”

Langella shines in uneven Rattigan revival

POSTED ON October 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Frank Lengella (standing) and Adam Driver.

Man and Boy By Terence Rattigan • Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC • (212) 719-1300 • Through November 27, 2011

Terence Rattigan’s background was Irish, but his instincts and his achievements were profoundly British, which made him England’s most successful and most popular playwright from the middle 1930s until the early 1960s.

Prominent among those enriching instincts was Rattigan’s secure knowledge of his audience — in particular, the woman he saw as his target fan. He called her “Aunt Edna” and envisioned her attending matinees unfailingly armed with a box of chocolates bought at the  theatre’s snack bar.

In a sense, by creating Edna, he was selling himself short. Some of his better plays hold up well, perhaps particularly 1954’s”Separate Tables,” which was vastly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, and is still among the Rattigan works frequently revived in England, but rarely in America, where the author is virtually forgotten.

There is, however, a lesser Rattigan play, “Man and Boy,” currently in revival at the American Airlines Theatre, in a respectable but uneven Roundabout Theatre Company staging starring Frank Langella giving a remarkable performance.

“Man and Boy” was originally produced in London in 1963. It is by no means a major work, but it can be made to work, as is the case with Maria Aitken’s efficient production. Apart from Langella, though, it is somewhat indifferently cast.

Langella’s Romanian-born Gregor Antonescu is a high class con artist based on Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish “Match King” who was functioning in the l930s. The  play’s action is set in 1934. Kreuger’s “Ponzi scheme,” as detailed in the play, is likely to bring Bernie Madoff’s name into the minds of contemporary audiences.

Gregor Antonescu, played by sly, slick Langella with an Eastern European accent, is estranged from his illegitimate son, Vassily. Five years earlier, the boy had moved to New York and been living under the name Basil Anthony, giving the general impression that “Vassily” has been dead for about that long.

His desperate father, however, finds him living quietly in a shabby Greenwich Village apartment. Basil is nicely played by Adam Driver. The apartment, designed by Derek McLane, is a perfect reflection of the “cold, damp night” called for by the script for Gregor’s visit to his son.

Gregor will manipulate, take advantage of, and use anyone who comes within his sight, and his son is no exception. In attempting what he considers his last chance to save his sleazy but powerful position, he attempts a merger with a gay industrialist, Mark Harries, well-played by Zach Grenier.

He arranges to meet Harries at Basil’s apartment, and when the industrialist assumes that Gregor’s son is really his lover, and that he could be sexually available on a loan basis, the desperate father lets his guest assume whatever he wishes.

At about this point, Rattigan’s plotting stretches thin and finally tears, making “Man and Boy” seem vaguely ridiculous, a tone from which it never entirely recovers, despite Langella’s valiant efforts to hold things together.

For real-life lovers, ‘Seasons’ change

POSTED ON October 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

John Carney’s much-loved film “Once” is the gift that keeps on giving.

The 2007 indie romantic drama that was shot in the space of three weeks in downtown Dublin on a budget that barely hit six figures (five if you convert to Euros) beat the competition to win Oscar for Best Song in 2008 with “Falling Slowly.” The film then enjoyed a vibrant second life on DVD in the years that followed. Next month, the film will morph into an Off-Broadway stage production that will likely reach the Great White Way in the New Year.

In the interim, fans who can’t get enough of the on-screen romance between a depressed Dublin vacuum cleaner repairman and a lonely Czech flower girl can look forward to “The Swell Season,” a documentary of the real-life love that blossomed off-screen between the film’s two stars: Frames frontman Glen Hansard and pianist Marketa Irglova. And for diehard Frames fans who have had just about enough of Hansard’s mushy kissy stuff and want the old Glen back, the same doc covers the withering of that self-same romance, as a gruelling tour of the U.S. takes its toll and the pair split to become just good friends. So there’s something for everybody.

Following the success of “Once”, Hansard stepped aside from his duties as leader of the Frames to compose, perform and tour with Marketa as a duo. Taking their band name from a favourite novel of Hansard’s, “The Swell Season” by Czech author Josef Skvorecky, the two musicians capitalized on their Oscar triumph to perform throughout the U.S. and Europe, and release three albums together. The film of the same name chronicles, in sparkling black and white, the rise and fall of this short-lived pairing, as Hansard’s playing Henry Higgins to Marketa’s Eliza Doolittle at the outset quickly inverts to find her playing Gertrude Higgins to his Paul McCartney.

The film is as intimate as if the viewers are squashed in at the next twofer table over, eavesdroppping on Glen and Marketa in a crowded Czech café — and a lot of the time, we are. The film confronts the delicate issue of romance between a teenage girl and a man twice her age, a friend of her parents whom she had known since was a 13-year-old music student.

The camera catches emotionally loaded moments in the Hansard household, as Glen tries to connect with his ailing father, a difficult and distant ex-boxer who drank himself to death during the timeframe in which the documentary was made. Hansard, an appealing and much-loved performer in Ireland for more than two decades, comes across as a true artist who lives for his music and genuinely felt he had found his muse in the introverted Czech songstress. Marketa, for her part, is no less genuine, and her vulnerability in the spotlight as she struggles with a celebrity life for which she is ill-prepared, is very real. Her solo passages on piano during the Swell Season tour take the performances into a regrettably charisma-free zone, and it will be interesting to see how she fares on the road without Glen to boost the energy levels onstage.

Cynics will wonder how Glen will know what he is doing wrong on tour without her frequent nagging, but romantics can enjoy the upside of their love when “The Swell Season” opens this Friday, October 21, in New York at Cinema Village and reRun Gastropub Theater.

Portrait of the artist as a father

POSTED ON October 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Elaine and her father, Colm Brennan.

I used to hate when I would get asked the question in school (either by a teacher or fellow pupil) “So what does your father do?” I secretly wanted to lie and say that he worked in a bank — or any type of office for that matter — but it would be clear as soon as anyone visited our house in Dublin that I wasn’t telling the truth about his profession.

It was difficult to explain to people that my Dad was in fact an artist, as some thought that “an artist” wasn’t really a “proper” job and that my Dad probably sat at home doing nothing. But take it from me that my Dad worked and still works as hard as any man down on Wall Street, or any doctor or a member of the NYPD. My Dad, Colm Brennan, has a bronze foundry in Dublin where they make sculpture, large figures, awards and memorials.

I suppose I never truly understood just how special my father was when I was growing up, as children are often embarrassed by their parents. Our house has always been filed with magnificent art: pictures on the walls, large bronze sculptures in the garden. My parents had many artistic friends who would often visit and still do to this day. Any friend of mine who visits the house is always taken aback by the art and, in particular, by my father’s studio. From this I began to realise just how special my father really is and how unique it is to have such a talented parent.

I am well aware of how amazing my Dad is and I am so proud of him and all he has achieved in life. Dad can be quiet and shy at times but he is by far the most intelligent person I know. We have always gotten on remarkably well from when I was a young girl, a teenager and even now as adults. He advises me on all aspects of life: my work, my life in New York, my doctorate and even my love life.

He is a fantastic husband to my mum Sally, and I can only hope that I, too, will be as happy in love as they are even after 40 plus years of marriage. My father told me the other day about how proud he is of me living in New York doing what I love, teaching Irish. Dad exposed me to the Irish language from a very young age. He made sure that my brother Cóilín and I attended Irish medium primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools and always promoted all things Irish in our home: the language, the history, the culture, the sport, literature and music. It is because of my father that I have devoted my life to the teaching and the promotion of the Irish language.

Dad supports me and gives me advice when needed. He calls me every day when I’m away from Ireland. He is simply amazing. I am absolutely delighted that Dad is having an art exhibition in New York this fall.

My Dad, Colm Brennan and his business partner Leo Higgins are celebrating 25 years of their Bronze foundry ‘CAST’ here in Manhattan. Make sure and come by the Irish Arts Center to see the bronze sculpture. The exhibition, “From the Crucible” will run until December 18, 2011. The official opening will be held on Tuesday, October 25, at 6:30 p.m. at the Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st St., NYC. (between 10th and 11th Aves.).

All are welcome and I look forward to seeing you there where you will get to meet my father, the role model in my life. Thank you Dad for all you have done for me, and for the opportunities and support you have always given me. You simply are one in a million.


Is cuimhin liom agus mé ar scoil go mbeadh sórt náire orm nuair a chuireadh duine (páiste nó múinteoir) an ceist orm “Céard a dhéanann do Dhaidí?” Theastaigh uaim bréag a insint agus a rá go n-oibríonn sé i mbanc nó in oifig éicint ach bheadh sé soilér dá dtagfadh duine ar cuairt chuig ár dteach nach hé sin an tslí beatha a bhí aige.

Bhí sé sórt deacair miniú do dhaoine gur ealaíontóir é m’athair, cheap siad nach fíor phost é, go mbeadh sé ina shuí sa bhaile gan faic ar siúl aige ach glac uaimse é go n-oibrigh agus n-oibríonn m’athair fós níos crua ná duine ar bith thíos ar Shráid Wall, dochtúr nó ball den NYPD. Tá teilgcheárta cré umha aige i mBaile Átha Cliath áit a dhéanann siad dealbh agus figiúr móra, duaiseanna agus leacht.

Níor thuig mé gur duine faoi leith é m’athair agus mé óg, is dócha go mbíonn náire ar pháiste roimh a thuismitheoirí cibé slí beatha atá acu. Agus mé ag fás aníos i mBaile Átha Cliath, bhí ár dteach lán le ealaín, pictiúrí, dealbh sa ghairdín agus bheadh ealaíontóirí inár dteach go minic. Aon duine a thagadh ar cuairt chuig ár dteachsan, bheadh siad chomh tógtha l’ealaín m’athair agus lena stiúideo. Mhínigh siad dom gur raibh an t-ádh orm athair den tsaghas seo a bheith agam agus dia ar ndiaidh thuigeas go raibh an ceart acu. Táim chomh brodúil as m’athair, Colm Brennan. Is laoch agus inspioráid é dhom. Uaireanta bíonn sé sórt ciúin, cúthalach ach is é an duine is clistí atá aithne agam air. Réitigh muid chomh maith sin agus mé i mo chailín óg, i mo dhéagóir agus anois mar dhuine fásta. Tugann sé comhairle dhom maidir le gach gné de mo shaol; m’obair, mo shaol i Nua Eabhrac, mo dhoctúireacht, mo shaol ghrá agus araile.

Is fear céile iontach é do mo Mhamaí Sally agus ba bhreá liom dá mbeadh mise in ann a bheith chomh sona pósta le mo thuisitheoirí amach anseo. Dúirt m’athair liom tamaillín ó shin go bhfuil sé chomh brodúil asam ag cónaí i Nua Eabhrac ag múineadh Gaeilge ag baint amach mo Ph D.

Chuir Daid an Ghaeilge ar fáil dhom ó aois an-óg. D’fhreastal méféin agus mo dheatháir Cóilín ar bunscoil agus meánscoil lánghaelach agus cuireadh gach rud gaelach chun cinn inár dteachsan: an teanga, an stair, an cultúr, an spórt, an litríocht agus ceol. Is mar gheall ar m’athair a ndeachaigh mé le múinteoireacht Ghaeilge agus go bhfuil mé chomh tógtha le dul chun cinn na teanga.

Tugann sé tacaíocht agus comhairle dhom aon uair atá sé uaim agus cuireann sé glaoch orm gach lá agus mé as baile.

Tá áthas an domhain orm go mbeidh taispeántas ealaíne ag m’athair i Nua Eabhrac an Fómhar seo. Tá m’athair Colm Brennan agus a páirtí gnó Leo Higgins ag ceiliúreadh 25 bliain den teilgcheárta ‘CAST’ leis an taispeántas seo. Bí cinnte cuairt a tabhairt ar an Irish Arts Center chun na dealbh a fheiceáil.  Beidh an taispeántas ‘From the Crucible’ ar siúl go dtí 18 de mhí na Nollag. Beidh an oscailt oifigiúl ar siúl ar Dé Máirt, 25 Deireadh Fómhar ag 6.30pm ag an Irish Arts Center, 553 W 51st Street. Lán fáilte roimh chách.

Ag tnúth le sibh a fheiceáil ar an 25ú agus beidh sibh in ann buaileadh le m’athair, an ról i mo shaol Colm Brennan. Míle buíoch as ucht gach rud  a dhein tú dom Daid, na deiseanna a thug tú dom agus an tacaíocht a thugann tú dom i mo shaol ar fad. Ní bheidh do leithéad arís ann.


Clooney for President?

POSTED ON October 12th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

George Clooney in a scene from "Ides of March."

Irish-American actor-auteur George Clooney insists he wasn’t thinking of any particular person when he was making “The Ides of March,” a drama about how a scandal threatens the presidential campaign of an idealistic U.S. politician. However, with a journalist father who dabbled in politics, as well as his own lifelong fascination with the inner workings of the government, Clooney admits he had no shortage of material on which to draw when crafting the story.

“Some of the speeches that I used were the things and ideas that my dad used to write about in the late 1970s in the newspaper,” Clooney said of his father, Nick Clooney, at a Toronto International Film Festival press conference in September.

“And the idea of [my character] having some of these issues  pop up almost every week in politics – it seemed familiar to us in a lot of ways,” explained the nephew of legendary entertainer Rosemary Clooney. “People thought it was about the [Sen.] John Edwards thing, but this was written long before [it] broke. We didn’t really model it after anybody. There were enough examples that we could just pick little pieces all we wanted to.”

Clooney, who traces his family roots to County Kilkenny in Ireland, co-wrote the screenplay for “Ides,” a big-screen adaptation of Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North,” with his longtime producing partner Grant Heslov and Willimon himself. Clooney, a 50-year-old Oscar-winning actor, also directed “Ides” and plays the lead role of Pennsylvania Gov. Mike Morris, a Democratic presidential candidate, in the nail-biting days leading up to a primary in Ohio.

Co-starring as Morris’ right-hand man is Ryan Gosling. Marisa Tomei plays a reporter, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Morris’ campaign manager, Paul Giamatti plays the campaign manager for a rival candidate and Evan Rachel Wood plays an intern for Morris’ campaign.

“I didn’t think of this really as a political film. I thought this was a film about moral choices and I don’t think that necessarily has any political stripe. I just thought it was a fun moral tale and once you put it in politics it kind of amps up all the problems.” said Clooney, who was born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio.

The actor-filmmaker went on to say his intention wasn’t to spark changes in the way politics are conducted in this country, but rather to get moviegoers thinking about the individual choices that get us to where we are, wherever that may be.

“Films don’t lead the way,” Clooney said. “In general, it takes about two years at the very least to get a film made, so mostly we’re reflecting the moods and thoughts that are going on in the country or around the world. So this film reflects some of the cynicism that we’ve seen in recent times. That’s probably good. It’s not a bad thing to hold a mirror up and look at some of the things that we’re doing. It’s not a bad thing to look at how we elect our officials, but that wasn’t what the film was designed to do.


An emigrant wife’s tough choices

POSTED ON October 12th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Malachy McCourt doesn’t take much prompting to break into song, but last week Kate Kerrigan, one of the guest readers at the Irish American Writers & Artists monthly salon, got in ahead of him. She is currently visiting New York to promote her latest novel “Ellis Island” (Harper Collins), the story of Ellie Hogan, a young girl who emigrates from Civil War-torn Ireland to work in America for one year to earn money to pay for an operation for her husband.

“Once there she becomes infatuated with the freedom and glamour of Jazz Age New York,” Kerrigan said, “and when her husband refuses to join her there, Ellie must make some tough choices.”

Kerrigan herself was raised in London of Irish parents and began her career there as a magazine journalist and editor. She moved to Dublin in 1991 and then again 10 years ago to her mother’s native County Mayo.


What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I work from 9-5 every day in a small shed at the back of my mother’s house – reading her over everything I have written that day. She is my sounding board and first critic.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write for the love of it. Money comes and goes – writing is a constant. If you are a true writer – the writing will continue regardless of whether you are published or not.


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

I read “Catcher in The Rye” as an adolescent and can still remember the color and smell of the scrappy paperback. “The Dead School” by Pat McCabe is my favorite of his books. Pat is this generation’s Joyce as far as I am concerned. Frank Ronan is a very underrated Irish writer – his first book “The Men Who Loved Evelyn Cotton” blew me away and I have devoured everything he has written since.


What book are you currently reading?

“The Man Who Never Returned,” by Peter Quinn. He is such an awesome writer and meticulous researcher that his books are at once a gift and a curse to me as a writer of historical fiction. It’s such a stunning blend of fact and fiction that I got intimidated and had to put it away until I had finished the book I was writing when it came out.


Is there a book you wish you had written?

No. I do my own thing. I set my own bar a bit higher with each book and try to clarify and improve my craft and skill set as a writer as best I can. You can’t wish to be somebody else. If my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle is the expression that comes to mind!

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

Belinda McKeon’s “Solace.” What an accomplished first novel. I loved it.


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

Hands down, Agatha Christie. I have always had a vague yen to write crime fiction and she is still the master of the whodunnit.


What book changed your life?

“Recipes for a Perfect Marriage.” I wrote it. When I was finished the, like, umpteenth edit I thought – “not bad – maybe I can really do this…” Writing something I was pleased me and held meaning for me made me realize, on a much deeper level, that I was stuck on my path as a writer – kind of whether I liked it or not.


What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Killala, in my house by the sea. Everyday I look out the window and feel lucky.


You’re Irish if . . .

you’ve ever heard a relation say “Have you switched off the immersion?!!”


Kate Kerrigan will read at the Tenement Museum tonight at 6 p.m. and the Bookmark Shoppe in Brooklyn tomorrow, Oct. 13, also at 6 p.m. For more information about her go to


Battling the rich and powerful

POSTED ON October 5th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Gregory Murphy.

The action for Gregory Murphy’s novel “Incognito” takes place in New York in and around 1911 and involves a dispute over a piece of property on Long Island. One hundred years on, Murphy is himself involved in an ownership battle of sorts in the courts with actress Emma Thompson around his play “The Countess,” which was produced Off Broadway and the West End in London.

It’s based on the disastrous, annulled marriage of the Victorian art critic John Ruskin. His wife Effie later married painter John Everett Millais, with whom she had eight children.  In a detailed account for the Daily Mail in April, Murphy described meeting Thompson in an effort to resolve the issue. He contends that her “Eppie” follows his screenplay of “The Countess” in its “time-frame, character development, structure and tone.”

Murphy turned down an initial financial offer of £10,000 to settle.  Eventually, the lawyers for “Eppie” offered in writing a low six-figure sum and a screenwriting credit, but negotiations broke down when they refused to give Murphy 50 percent of the amount on signing as is customary.

In contrast, Sybil Curtis in “Incognito” will not  settle for any amount.


What is your latest book, “Incognito,” about?

The main character, William Dysart, an aristocratic young lawyer, is asked to negotiate the purchase of a small piece of property adjoining the 2,000-acre estate of the widow of a Wall Street financier.  William at first believes the request merely an annoying accommodation to a powerful client, but after a number of encounters with Sybil Curtis, the enigmatic young woman who owns the property, he begins to suspect that far more is at stake than a few acres of land. As William persists in his attempt to understand what that might be, the mystery surrounding Sybil Curtis’s identity only deepens until it begins to strike at the heart of his world.


What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I start an hour or so after I get up and usually write for four hours.  There are, of course, days when two hours is a struggle and I stop, and others when I can write for eight hours or more. I think the ideal conditions for writing are solitude, coffee and a window with a view. Add a cigarette or two — even better — but I try to avoid them. I have never found the inevitable loneliness of writing a problem, perhaps because I was one of eleven and solitude was always such a luxury.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write everyday and read everything you can by writers you admire to learn from them.  I would also read one of the many good books out there on the craft of writing — there are certain rules you really have to know. A novel is a work of architecture as much as it is anything else.  I don’t believe in classes for writers.  If you’ve got talent and persistence you will eventually find a publisher (and an editor).


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

“The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton; “Middlemarch” by George Eliot; “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.


What book are you currently reading?

“The Man in the Rockefeller Suit” by Mark Seal.


Is there a book you wish you had written?

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.


Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

“The American” by Henry James.

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

Charles Dickens.



What book changed your life?

“Middlemarch” by George Eliot.


What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

I’m visiting Ireland for the first time this Christmas.  I’m really looking forward to seeing Dublin, because of its architecture and history.


You’re Irish if . . .

… authority makes you laugh and words make you cry.

Origin Wraps Fourth Irish Festival

POSTED ON October 5th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Darren Healy.

Audiences still tend to be slightly confused by the name of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival, which is understandable considering that its sponsor, the New York-based Origin Theatre Company, this year celebrated the festival’s fourth season.

The event, which refers to itself as the first and only festival in the world dedicated to Irish playwrights, (hence the “1st” and “Irish” in the name) ran for four weeks, starting on Sept. 5 and calling it a day on Oct.r 2, with an awards ceremony following on Oct. 3.

The show which chalked up the greatest number of nominations, four in all, was the Mint Theater Company’s “Temporal Powers.” The play, a little-known drama by Waterford-born playwright Teresa Deevy. The play, written in the early 930s, was recently unearthed by the Mint’s artistic chief, Jonathan Bank, who secured a personal nomination as the play’s director.

In addition to director Bank’s nomination, “Temporal Powers” racked up nominations in the Best Design and Best Production categories, plus a nod for Aidan Redmond, the show’s outstanding leading man, who scored as the late playwright’s conflicted hero, Michael Powers.

Other actors nominated in addition to Redmond were Steve Blount who starred as the reclusive farmer, Hughie Dolan, in Deirdre Kinahan’s eloquent “Bogboy” at the Irish Arts Center, and Darren Healy, who played the frenetic title character, Noah, in playwright Sean McLoughlin’s galvanic “Noah and the Tower Flower,” imported to the Drilling Company Theatre from the Dublin-based Fishamble Company.

Among actresses nominated included veteran performer Ruth Maleczech, who struck a new height as Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s mentally troubled daughter, in Sharon Fogarty’s “Lucia’s Chapter of Coming Forth by Day.” Other actresses nominated included Sorcha Fox, who played Brigid, the recovering Dublin heroin addict of “Bogboy,” produced by Tall Tales Theatre Company, Navan, and Solstice Arts Centre in collaboration with the Irish Arts Centre. The final nominee in the Best Actress category was  Donna O’Connor, co-author and star of the raucously funny one-performer show, “A Night With George,” a production of the Brassneck Theatre Company of West Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Nominated directors, in addition to Jonathan Bank, included Jo Mangan, who helmed “Bogboy” and Jim Culleton, who shaped the production of  “Noah and the Tower Flower.”

Nominated in the Best Design category, along with “Temporal Powers,” were Mabou Mines’ “Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth by Day,” and “Dublin by Lamplight,” at 59E59 Theaters.

This year’s festival was structured around four productions from Ireland and four from America, with six American premieres and one New York premiere. Serving on the 1st Irish 2011 jury were Jacqueline Davis, executive director of  The  New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Playbill’s Harry Haun, film and theatre critic and historian Bernard Carragher, the Irish theatre columnist Kate Kennon, and Sean Noonan, an executive at Mutual of America, where he serves as liaison to New York’s professional theatre.

Unflinching observer

POSTED ON September 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Anne Enright.

Anne Enright has developed a reputation for saying the unsayable, which is one reason that people might show up next Monday night at the 92nd St. Y, where she is a guest alongside fellow novelist Michael Ondaatje. Her London Review of Books essay on the “mass paranoia” induced by the disappearance of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann was described as “startlingly explicit” in a profile of the writer in the London Independent.

That same month, October 2007, Enright won the Man Booker Prize for her fourth novel, “The Gathering.” (Ondaatje won in 1992 for “The English Patient”.) It looks at what happens to the Hegartys when their brother Liam dies.  “A melancholic love and rage bubbles just beneath the surface of this Dublin clan, and Enright explores it unflinchingly,” commented the reviewer of Publishers Weekly.

The former RTE television producer and director Enright became a fulltime writer in 1993, a couple of years after she won the Rooney Prize for Literature.            Enright told the Echo that her latest, “The Forgotten Waltz,” is about “Adultery, children, true love in the Irish boom.”


What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I write all the time, whenever I get the time, day or evening, at home or on a plane. Or I did for 10 years or so. Since this last book came out I have been taking a break, which is strange and wonderful. Haven’t written a thing. Except, now, this.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Everyone fails, that is not the interesting thing about your day.


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

Just this Summer I read “Gilead,” by Marilynne Robinson, “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell and “Eucalyptus” by the Australian writer Murray Bail – all of them were terrific and full of pleasure, both the reader’s and the writer’s.

What book are you currently reading?

See last answer.


Is there a book you wish you had written?

When I am not writing, I can read happily and say “Oh I wish I had written that.” When I am thinking about a book, or have one on the go, I tend to push books away because they are not as “right” as the one I am about to put on the page. But, like many writers, I am always disappointed in my own finished work, and am happy to revere the work of others: I would always look wistfully at “Madame Bovary,” for example, or “Love in the Time of Cholera,” or any number of great books.


Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

I thought Cormac McCarthy would be too testosterone-bound for me, but when I read “Blood Meridian” there was nothing “pleasantly surprising” about it. His work takes you by storm.


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



What book changed your life?

I don’t know if my life has changed.


What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

After 10 years living in Bray I have just recently fallen in love with the seafront; with its view of Killiney and north to Howth.


You’re Irish if . . .

You want to be.


She will be introduced by Belinda McKeon, author of  “Solace.” For details go to


Two plays of note at 1st Irish Festival

POSTED ON September 28th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Mary Murray and Darren Healy in "Noah and the Tower Flower"

Noah and the Tower Flower by Sean McLoughlin • 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2011 • Fishamble: New Play Company (Ireland), co-produced With The Drilling Company • Through October 2, 2011

Sean McLoughlin’s tough-minded urban romance, “Noah and the Tower Flower,” won the Irish Times Best Play Award four years ago. And it is definitely a romance, despite its harshness, particularly when performed by the two extraordinary actors who created the roles.

Those performers, the galvanic Darren Healy and the funny and moving Mary Murray, have been playing Noah and Natalie in far flung locations including Bulgaria, Romania, and now, for the first time, New York, where the play is part of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2011.

In McLoughlin’s densely packed work, these two luckless young citizens of Ballymun, a rough part of Dublin, meet in a bar and, on an impulse, adjourn to Natalie’s flat for an encounter which swings wildly from tentative courtship to potentially lethal violence. She is a recovering drug addict, and he is a near-hysterical layabout with only the most fragile grip on normal life, living under the control of his own manic energy.

Director Jim Culleton’s insightful investigation of the characters has resulted in more credible effects than the way such flawed stage figures are usually presented. The effect is both intelligent and powerful.

Natalie lives alone in a modest urban flat, obsessed by the fear that at any moment she may slide back into a life marred by her long-standing addiction to street drugs. She is fragile, but not weak. It would be easy to see her as an individual who, with a little luck, could build a normal life free of harmful entanglements. She is, however, desperately lonely, suffering the pain which extreme isolation can bring.

It is this solitude which causes her to bring Noah home with her, something she would normally never do with a stranger. When she tells Noah how unusual such an action is for her, you believe her without question. And, in his way, so does Noah.

As for Noah, he is clearly someone who has lived more closely to real peril than Natalie has. When he produces a gun he’s been carrying around in a sack with, one assumes, everything he owns, it comes as no surprise, except to Natalie, who still has a measure of innocent credulousness. There is, she reveals, an area of her character which is still naïve.

Natalie and Noah are real-seeming and fully dimensioned. It would be easy indeed to imagine their lives beyond the few brief scenes and moments playwright McLoughlin has provided. That’s something you can’t say of a lot of otherwise admirable plays. The performances by Murray and Healy rank among the genuine achievements of this year’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival.

• • •

Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth By Day Written and Directed by Sharon Fogarty • Mabou Mines, 150 First Ave., NYC • First Irish Theatre Festival 2011 • Through October 2, 2011

Ruth Maleczech is one of the finest actresses in New York. She’s also one of the most courageous, as anyone who remembers her performance as “Queen Lear” a couple of decades ago won’t really need to be reminded.

Now she’s back, as part of the current 1st Irish Theater Festival, playing James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, whose sanity was endlessly in question: she was institutionalized, mainly in Switzerand, for nearly 50 of her 75 years.

Fogarty’s encounter with Lucia Joyce has produced a work of theater which is primarily a monologue, produced here by Mabou Mines as a vehicle for Ruth Maleczech. Paul Kandel, excellent as always, is also sporadically on hand as James Joyce, sometimes merely as a silhouette, sometimes fully fleshed, but almost always as an annoyance to his daughter, who resented his lifelong attempts to maintain a relationship between them.

Sharon Fogarty’s approach to Lucia Joyce is interesting, but not entirely successful. Nor is it particularly compelling.

Whether Joyce’s daughter was in fact insane or merely eccentric is a question which has obsessed scholars for decades, without an acceptable answer having ever been reached.

In Fogarty’s view, Lucia Joyce was, in some areas, a genius. The portmanteau words and expressions which come to her with ease may have convinced her that she had influenced aspects of her father’s writing, but the evidence in Fogarty’s account isn’t particularly convincing.

Fogarty’s production takes full advantage of a set and lighting by Jim Clayburgh and of subtle projections by Julie Archer.

Sharon Fogarty has, over the years, proven herself to be an earnest, gifted writer, and, beyond doubt, Ruth Maleczech is a genuine treasure.

“Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth By Day” will probably by of greatest interest to audiences already interested in the work of both women, with emphasis on the always remarkable Ruth Maleczech.



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