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Nobody compares to Hurt in Beckett’s ‘Tape’

POSTED ON December 21st  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

John Hurt debuted in the Gate Theatre’s production of “Krapp’s Last Tape” in 1999.

It’s difficult to believe that John Hurt, one of England’s finest actors, had never appeared in New York until this month’s star turn in Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater. It would be splendid, though, if before too long some producer could give Hurt and Michael Colgan’s Dublin Gate Theatre production a bit of a run in a Manhattan venue, off-Broadway or on. In 1958, Beckett created in “Krapp’s Last Tape” a brilliant, hour-length work dealing with a 69-year-old man studying his birthday by reassessing a portion of his life from 30 years earlier. The medium that allows him to examine his past are tape recordings he had made at various points in his life.

As time passes, the play seems more and more significant among Beckett’s works, and not merely because it provides sterling actors with an incomparable vehicle. When Hurt was playing the role in Brooklyn, Brian Dennehy was doing it at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater. Meanwhile, at numerous companies around the country, amateur and professional directors and aging actors have realized precisely what the play holds for them.

It would, however, be difficult if not impossible to imagine any doing it better than John Hurt, for whom the play, under different circumstances, might easily have written, so probing, so incisive and so moving is the 71-year-old actor’s performance in the role.  “Krapp’s Last Tape” is about loss, regret and denial. Among the wonders of Hurt’s performance is the graceful and seemingly easy manner in which he differentiates between the youthful tapes of three decades earlier and his vocal delivery on this 69th birthday.                         It’s doubtful than many, perhaps any, of the actors who have done the play in the past could possibly have achieved as much as Hurt has done. John Hurt, a sometime resident of Ireland, has scores of TV (“I, Claudius” as Caligula) and film (“Elephant Man”; “1984”) credits to his name and is starring in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” currently showing in cinemas. If he isn’t as well known in this country as he ought to be, it is partly because earlier on, there were two other gifted actors whose similar names made confusion with him almost unavoidable — William Hurt and John Heard, both American.

In the Gate production, which debuted in Dublin in1999, under the direction of Artistic Director Colgan, Hurt, in a white shirt and a dark, sleeveless sweater, sits at a battered desk, hovering over the tape recorder. Sometimes he embraces it, almost hugging it. At other moments, he seems to be repelled by it, as though it is the source of the intense pain he feels as he remembers the past, almost experiencing it all over again.

Since that first performance, Hurt has played Beckett’s moving, evocative play often. He first took it to London in 2000 and he played both Dublin and London again in 2006. Colgan also sponsored a “Beckett on Film” anthology at one point and Hurt played “Krapp,” directed by the Canadian, Atom Egoyan.

5th annual the best yet

POSTED ON December 14th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Tamar Korn singing in "An Irish Christmas" at the Irish Arts Center.

Dec. 7 was opening night for a 14-performance run of “An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice Celebration,” the annual holiday show masterminded by Mick Moloney that is in its fifth year at the Donaghy Theater in midtown Manhattan’s Irish Arts Center. I have seen previous editions, and each was a delight.

But this one tops them all for appeal, diversity, and surprise. As long as Moloney helms this yuletide concert, it will remain the most imaginative, appealing, and stimulating Irish Christmas show to be seen and heard in America–bar none.

Artificial snow, sky, and sentiment were all thankfully absent. Apart from a simple Christmas tree to the left-rear and three white decorative rectangles hanging on the back curtain, singer, banjoist, and bouzouki player Mick Moloney, button accordionist Billy McComiskey, fiddler Athena Tergis, keyboardist Brendan Dolan, and singer and fiddler Liz Hanley performed with impressive skill and panache on essentially a bare stage. Only some music stands stood between them and the audience. The physical intimacy of the theater and the musical intimacy of the performances fused seamlessly. As Moloney mentioned on stage, the theater turned into a kitchen or living room, and the craic was mighty inside and outside it.

After an initial blast of tunes to which Niall O’Leary stepdanced, Moloney expertly sang “The Holly and the Ivy” carol, to which Hanley added harmony. Accompanied by Tergis on fiddle and Dolan on keyboards, Hanley followed with a beautiful rendition of “The Kerry Carol.”

Moloney, McComiskey, Dolan, and Tergis are certainly more familiar to trad devotees, but throughout the evening Hanley was a revelation, singing and playing fiddle with more confidence, poise, and precision than I have ever witnessed before from her. A graduate of New York University (where Moloney teaches) who’s a member of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra and the rock band Emanuel and the Fear, Hanley also showed she can act, as I discovered firsthand in the lobby at intermission. Liz Hanley is a versatile performer whose reputation will only rise and spread.

Niall O’Leary performed one of his signature steps, “The Broom Dance,” and then guest jazz soprano Tamar Korn sang and scatted “Zat You, Santa Claus,” a song she learned from a rendition by Louis Armstrong. Korn followed with Irving Berlin’s 1937 standard “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” which she sang with infectious swing and Dolan’s jazz-styled accompaniment, and then delivered a triad of “Hazeremos Una Merenda” (“Let’s Make a Meal”) in Ladino, “Zogt, nor Zogt” (“Tell Me, Tell”) and “Ikh Hob a Kleyn Dreydl” (“I Am a Dreidel”) in Yiddish, and Woody Guthrie’s children’s song “Hanukkah Dance” in English. Tamar Korn was a polyglot powerhouse.

It’s not easy to follow someone of Korn’s strong stage presence, complete with tantalizing vocalese that simulated a fiddle at one point, but Moloney ably handled the transition into Tommy Sands’s “The Bushes of Jerusalem,” a song reminding us that Jesus on earth was a social activist, not a hedge fund executive. Despite his tenor banjo falling twice in rapid succession to the stage floor, Moloney was the soul of sangfroid during his deft, sensitive interview with philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman, who described her roots in the working-class Irish section of Allentown, Pa. (her father was a postman there) and her background later in college-level education and then public television.

Intermission, usually a time to chat and sip tea or chardonnay in the lobby, proved the real surprise of the night. A Northern Irish mummer’s play was enacted in the middle of the lobby by Moloney, Dolan, O’Leary, Hanley, and guest Macdara Vallely. They were dressed in motley costumes and wore exaggerated headgear as they acted out and spun rhymes, quips, myths, puns, and folklore within a loose narrative of enchanting merriment spiked by music. Vallely, in doctor’s garb, enlisted an audience member to take jumping cables to revive a dead man played by Hanley, and the patron finally twigged to the joke by jumping up and down twice, thus reviving the prostrate Hanley.

Back inside the theater, Tergis and McComiskey played a duet of the slow air “The Coolin” that segued into “Keogh’s / Maggie Lynn’s,” reels composed by McComiskey. Hanley, with Moloney in alliance, movingly sang Vincent Woods’s song “Sanctuary.” Moloney took lively lead on singing Colum Sands’s song “The Buskers” and compellingly recited Terence Winch’s poem “Celebration.”

Like Tamar Korn, Filipino vocalist Grace Nono was riveting. A blended drone played by Tergis and Hanley on fiddles, McComiskey on accordion, and Dolan on keyboards served as the spare, delicate backdrop to Nono’s soaring, chantlike singing in her native language, interspersed with succinct, apposite comments in English. Grace Nono was nothing short of spellbinding.

I was instantly transported back to the Irish Tradition trio in the D.C. area from more than three decades ago when founding Irish Tradition accordionist McComiskey played Turlough O’Carolan’s “Loftus Jones” with Tergis on fiddle and Moloney on banjo.

The concert ended with “The Wren Song,” nimbly sung by Moloney, and a well-earned encore comprising “The Girl That Broke My Heart / My Love Is in America / Christmas Eve” reels.

Don’t delay in getting tickets to “An Irish Christmas” before the show’s run ends at 8 p.m. on Sun., Dec. 18. It is Irish yuletide entertainment at its apex. I had a ball.

For tickets, call 866-811-4111. The Irish Arts Center is at 553 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019,, 212-757-3318.



15 stocking stuffers

Last week in “Ceol” I cited a few albums directly or indirectly related to Christmas. Here I’m listing 15 albums of Irish traditional music released so far in 2011 that, individually or collectively, would make a welcome holiday gift. I put them in alphabetical order to avoid any hint of preference, and they should not automatically be deemed my top 15 for 2011.

“At Complete Ease” by John Carty and Brian Rooney (Racket)

“Country Crossroads: The Nashville Sessions” by Cherish the Ladies (Big Mammy)

“Crabs in the Skillet” by the Old Bay Ceili Band ( “Deadly Buzz” by Mick O’Brien and Caoimhin O Raghallaigh (Irish Music Net)

“Foxlight” by Iarla O Lionaird (Real World)

“The Hare Said a Prayer to the Rainbow and Followed the Fox Down the Hole” by Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna (,

“How to Tune a Fish” by Beoga (Compass)

“Lost River: Vol. 1” by Daithi Sproule (New Folk)

“Millhouse Measures” by Raw Bar Collective (

“Shadow and Light” by John Doyle (Compass)

“Since Maggie Hooley Learned the Hooley Hooley” by the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (

“Small Towns and Famous Nights” by the Alan Kelly Gang (Blackbox Music)

“Songs of the Scribe” by Padraigin Ni Uallachain (Ceoltai Eireann)

“A Sweeter Place” by Girsa (RiverRollick)

“Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion” by Dan Gurney (technically a 2012 release, it is currently available at; I wrote the introduction for the booklet of this superb CD)

And let me add one from 2010, the top Irish traditional album of that year: “Grove Lane” by Joe Derrane (Compass; I wrote the lead essay for this magnificent CD)

New England forgets about Puritans at Christmas

POSTED ON December 14th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Melissa McCarthy from the Harney Academy Dance performs a slip jig at the Christmas Celtic Sojourn show.

It’s hard to believe that Christmas was once banned in New England – by the Puritans of course! They objected to the merrymaking and caroling, the gift-giving and time off work, and the drinking and feasting that seemingly had pagan overtones.

Thankfully, those 17th century scrooges are ancient memories. Today New England celebrates Christmas and New Year in their proper context, as a reflection on individual religious beliefs, a precursor to the deepening winter months, and a time to be thankful for family and friends.

Here’s a sampling of holiday celebrations taking place across the region.


Fiddling in Harvard

One of the perennial favorites of the holidays is Brian O’Donovan’s “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” a fully-realized pageant to the essence of Christmas and the power of music for evoking our lifelong memories. Now in its ninth year, the show is finishing up its two week tour of the region, with five matinee and evening shows at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in downtown Boston from Dec. 16-18.

A native of Clonakilty, Cork, and host of Celtic Sojourn on WGBH FM, O’Donovan sets a wonderful tone to this variety show that is at times robust and joyous, then reflective and nostalgic. Musical director Seamus Egan brings unfailing taste and quality to the musical arrangements and performances.

This year’s Sojourn cast includes Derry singer Len Graham, Canadian singer Ruth Moody, fiddle stand-out Hanneke Cassel and her group Halali, Kansas City piper Kieran O’Hare, the amazing step-dancers from the Harney Academy of Dance and many more.

In Worcester, “A Classic Irish Christmas” with Andy Cooney performs at Mechanics Hall on Dec. 15. Cooney is a consummate musician and stage presence, and offers a nice combination of Christmas songs and Irish melodies. His talented cast includes County Clare folk singer Kate Pursell, humorist George Casey and the Darrah Carr Dancers.

Irish harpist, singer and composer Aine Minogue performs her annual Winter Solstice concert, a beautiful meditation on the changing seasons and the ancient Celtic melodies that mark the winter season.

On Dec. 17, Aine is joined by All-Ireland fiddler player Brendan Bulger for a concert at the Common Fence Point Community Hall in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Then on Dec. 23 she’s giving a solo performance at the famous Club Passim’s in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Finally, one of the grand holiday traditions New England is the Boston Pops Holiday Show at stately Boston Symphony Hall. Led by conductor Keith Lockhart, the concerts run through Dec. 24, and each night has different guests, including surprise visits from Santa at the matinee shows.


Culture and Church

On Dec. 17-18, the film, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” is playing at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Boston. Sponsored by Arts Emerson, this classic Eugene O’Neill tale features Katherine Hepburn and Jason Robards, Jr., and provides a haunting glimpse into O’Neill’s own dysfunctional family life.

On Dec. 18, the historic Omni Parker House hosts a dramatic performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” from 2 to 4 p.m. Actor Al LePage brings this classic tale to life in the very hotel where Dickens himself first read his story in America.

There’s no better holiday outing for families than the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. The Library has exhibits on JFK’s term in office and on the Kennedy Family, and a gift shop filled with Kennedy books, calendars, and memorabilia. On Dec. 28, the Library presents the Catskill Puppet Theater’s performance of a children’s play entitled “The Willow Girl.”

One of the hallowed Catholic traditions in Boston is the Christmas Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End. This year Cardinal Sean O’Malley celebrates the Nativity of Jesus. On Christmas Eve, an organ prelude begins at 11:00 p.m., followed by Midnight Mass. Then on Christmas Day, Cardinal O’Malley celebrates Mass at 11:30 a.m.


New Year’s Eve

On Cape Cod, the Clancy Tradition, a family of musicians originally from County Armagh, is performing at this year’s First Night in the beautiful seaside town of Chatham.

The band includes brothers Gene on banjo and Pat on piano accordion. Gene’s daughter Rosemary, also an accomplished violin maker, plays fiddle and mandolin, while Pat’s daughter Liadain adds vocals. The family performance is rounded out by New York pianist and flautist Brendan Dolan. The band performs two shows at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Chatham at 8 and 9 p.m.

In Vermont, Gypsy Reel, the green state’s premier Irish band, performs at the rustic Grafton Inn in Grafton, VT on New Year’s Eve. The band features multi-talented Claudine Langille on banjo, mandolin and vocals, fiddler Graham Parker, guitarist Jon Scaife, and singer Camille Parker. The Grafton Inn is offering a four-course dinner for $65 per person, and $29.95 for children.

The Black Rose Pub near Faneuil Hall was recently voted Boston’s Best Irish Pub. Check out the Irish New Year’s Eve Dinner on Dec. 31 between 5 and 10 p.m. The $60 charge includes a three-course dinner, two drinks and a pint of Guinness to welcome the New Year. Throughout the night are great Irish ballad bands, including Jim Coyle, Celtic Clan and Sunday’s Well.

Up the street at One Boston Place, the Four Green Fields Pub, which opened last February, is celebrating its first New Year’s Eve in Boston. The pub, famous for its full-sized Irish cottage on the premises, has booked the Prodigals, considered one of the best Irish trad-rock bands, for the evening. Admission is $20.

The Burren Pub in Davis Square Somerville is featuring brilliant Galway fiddler Helena Delaney and her all-star cast of stellar traditional musicians for a rousing session to welcome the New Year. In the back room, Red Square, New England’s premier cover band, is holding court. Admission is $20.

For more details on these and other Irish activities in New England, visit

‘Once’ retells story of classic indie film

POSTED ON December 7th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Steve Kazee and Christin Milioti in "Once."

“Once” • Book By Enda Walsh, Music and Lyrics by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova • New York Theatre Workshop • Open-ended Run

The story behind “Once,” the innocently charming new musical which opened last week at New York Theatre Workshop, is even more complicated than anything that actually takes place on the stage on East 4th Street.

There was, of course, the independent film of the same name which not only became a surprise hit in 2007, but contained a ballad, “Falling Slowly,” which won the “Best Song” Academy Award that year.

The film told the story of a romance involving a depressed Dublin vacuum cleaner repairman and a lonely Czech flowergirl two decades his junior.

The song, and the rest of the music in the film, which had been written and directed by John Carney, was the work of Glen Hansard, famous in Ireland as the frontman of the popular group, the Frames, and his young partner, the Czech-born pianist and singer, Marketa Irglova.

It was planned from the start that “Once” would eventually be converted into a stage musical with Hansard and Irglova involved. Hansard had left his post as leader of the Frames in order to write, perform and tour with Irglova as a duo.

Hansard named their musical partnership “The Swell Season,” in honor of a novel he loved by the Czech author Josef Skvorecky.

It was as a duo that, on the strength of the film’s fame and the Oscar, the couple did a few concerts in New York, including one in Carnegie Hall. Fate, however, intervened and the couple dissolved their relationship. Irglova married someone else, and Hansard decided not to perform for a time.

It was at this point that Walsh, one of Ireland’s most prolific young writers, was brought in to provide a libretto for the reconceived stage version of “Once.” The plot, in Walsh’s hands, remains much the same as before, although the lovers no longer have specific names, and are referred to, rather unsatisfactorily, as “Guy” and “Girl.”

The stage at New York Theatre Workshop has been reconfigured by Cork-born Bob Crowley, one of the theater’s best designers, as a working bar with the theater patrons free to come and go until the play itself begins and again during the intermission.

The production, directed by John Tiffany, has the benefit of an excellent cast, with particularly fine performances from Steve Kazee as “Guy” and Christin Milioti as “Girl,” both of them otherwise unidentified.

Tiffany is best known as the director of the celebrated Black Watch documentary about a military unit from Scotland. Hansard and Irglova are themselves the subjects of a recent documentary, “The Swell Season,” dealing with the personal relationship which grew out of their professional  partnership, and how it finally crumbled under the pressures of touring.

Under other circumstances, the pair might be reliving their lives onstage in “Once.”

As things stand, however, they’re represented only by the fine songs they wrote for the beloved film which was shot in downtown Dublin in slightly less than three weeks’ time on a ludicrously tiny budget.

That film, “Once,” eventually made way for the warm and worthwhile new stage version. Much credit is due writer Enda Walsh and director John Tiffany for stepping in and saving a valuable project that could very easily have gone wrong.

McGowan honored at council’s 49th gathering

POSTED ON November 30th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Noel Kilkenny, Ireland's Consul General in New York, council president Dennis D. Swanson, president, Fox Television Stations Group, honoree Kieran McGowan and Diarmuid Hogan, council vice president and president of Global Excess Partners who served as dinner chairman and who introduced the honoree at the sold-out event. The Sam Maguire Cup was also at the dinner. It was brought by members of the Dublin football team sponsored by Aer Lingus.

Kieran McGowan, chairman of Ireland’s largest company, CRH plc, was the recipient of the Ireland-U.S. Council’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2011 which was presented to the former chief executive of IDA Ireland at the council’s 49th annual dinner held recently at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan. Also present at the dinner gathering was another special guest, Sam Maguire, lately in the custody of the All Ireland-winning Dublin Gaelic football team.



‘Seminar’ is master class in acting by Alan Rickman

POSTED ON November 30th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

From left: Andrew Garman, Evan Johnson and Danny Mastrogiorgio in "Burning." Photo by Monique Carboni.

“Seminar” By Theresa Rebeck • With Alan Rickman • Golden Theatre, NYC • Open-ended Run

When a writer sets about to write about the act of writing, trouble usually follows. One of the extremely rare exceptions has arrived on Broadway in the form of Theresa Rebeck’s sly comedy, “Seminar,” with Alan Rickman giving one of the strongest, most secure performances of his long and illustrious career.

Put simply, the gifted Rebeck has given the actor a role in which he’s brilliantly, flawlessly cast. He is Leonard, a published but corrupt writer whose career at present consists of enrolling wannabe scribes who are willing and able to cough up $5,000 to be part of an exclusive group of four or so students making up a semi-private class.

In the case of “Seminar,” playwright Rebeck has limited Leonard’s class to four students, two male and two female, all young, eager, and willing to endure the insults which seem to be their self-loathing teacher’s manner of dealing with a world which has long since rejected him as a plagiarist.

Rebeck’s source in conceiving Leonard may be an actual writer all-too-well known to other writers, an individual who advertises himself as someone claiming to be able to teach virtually anyone, amateur or otherwise, to write salable screenplays for a substantial fee.

The fee, of course, is payable in advance, and not normally refundable. That’s the procedure Rebeck has set up for Leonard’s class, pushing the “Seminar” envelope to the extreme point that the teacher she has created doesn’t even bother to read what his students give him beyond the first page, or even, depending on his mood, beyond the first paragraph or so.

Rebeck takes dangerous risks in the area of credibility, but her writing is so solid, and her intentions are so secure that the fabric never tears.

Rickman takes his share of risks, too, but his skill keeps him on solid ground, even though it might seem easy enough, in the hands of a lesser actor, to detest the cruelly sarcastic Leonard, at least until his professional life’s “secret” is revealed.

Leonard’s class takes place in the spacious Upper West Side apartment occupied by one of his students, Kate, whose parents are conveniently out of town — at least for the time period scheduled to be covered by the classes.

Kate is played by Lily Rabe in great form, reminding her audience that the strong Portia she delivered in last season’s “The Merchant of Venice” was no fluke.

Here she works spectacurately well paired by Hamish Linklater as Martin, seemingly the most serious, and very likely the most talented, of the four students.

The remaining young cast members, playing somewhat smaller roles, are Jerry O’Çonnell and Hettienne Park, both of them intelligent and credible as, respectively, Douglas and Izzy.

Playwright Rebeck’s bright, funny, knowing script has been well and briskly handled, start to finish, by director Sam Gold.

The author, whose excellent “Mauritius” was a distinct highlight two seasons back, has done plenty of good work in the past, but “Seminar” seems so completely realized that it probably ranks as her strongest achievement to daRte.

Theresa Rebeck’s grasp of her materials in “Seminar” is so convincing that it’s doubtful that very many members of her audience are likely to waste much time wondering where the students got the five grand Leonard demanded as entrance fee for his classes.

• • •

“Burning” By Thomas Bradshaw • Acorn Theatre • Thru December 17, 2011

It would be difficult indeed to remember the last time a white playwright undertook to write a play centering around black characters.

Thomas Bradshaw, however, a young but fairly experienced black dramatist, has come up with “Burning,” a sometimes compelling, sometimes tedious work only three of whose more than fifteen characters are black.

As it happens, “Burning” marks the playwright’s Off-Broadway debut, although he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009, and is described in the play’s publicity materials as a “downtown phenomenon.”

In addition, he has been named one of Time Out New York’s “Ten Playwrights to Watch” and identified by the Village Voice as one year’s “Best Provocative Playwright.”

Bradshaw’s earlier plays, of which there are several, have mainly been seen at the State Theater of Bielefield, Germany, and at the National Theatre of Mannheim, also in Germany.

In “Burning,” he has created complicated, intersecting stories spanning two eras, although not always clearly or consistently.

In the latter portion of the play, which is contemporary, Stephen Tyrone Williams — in a fine performance as Peter, one of the play’s three black characters — is a painter who goes to Germany for the opening of a show of his work. He has gone to great lengths not to reveal his race, refusing to be photographed or even interviewed, let alone meeting the show’s curators face to face.

In Germany, he encounters a clutch of neo-Nazis, whom Bradshaw appears to have had considerable difficulty integrating into the play except for one rather casual sexual encounter.

Sexual encounters, casual and otherwise, seem almost to constitute the bulk of the play, which might have worked more gracefully had Bradshaw devoted himself more rigorously to his plotlines.

“Burning” which runs at the Acorn Theatre through December 17, has been directed by Scott Elliott, Artistic Director of the New Group, the production’s producers.

The long and rambling play runs just a few minutes short of three hours. On one Friday night performance early in the Theatre Row run, there were a number of walkouts at the end of the lengthy first act, an occurrance which, one hears, is not at all unusual with “stagings of Bradshaw’s work.

Whether the numerous departures can be chalked up to the play’s length, its rather random pace, or even the frequent sex, would be hard to say, but it definitely seemed that the audience was never very firmly locked into the play as it progressed.

The tale’s chronologically earliest segment deals with a 14-year-old boy, Chris, who, following his mother’s death due to a drug overose, comes to New York hoping to become an actor, and meets a pair of gay men, Jack and Simon, who give him a home, provided he’ll do some work around the apartment.

As Chris’ hosts, Andrew Garman (who plays Jack) and Danny Mastrogiorgio (who plays Simon) are excellent. Evan Johnson plays Chris as a teenager and is gracefully replaced by Hunter Foster as the character ages into adulthood.

The rambling nature of Bradshaw’s construction, added to Elliott’ somewhat loose direction, tends to blur the effectiveness and lessen the impact of some of the minor characters.

Nevertheless, Thomas Brashaw is definitely, as Time Out New York pointed out, a playwright to watch, even if he alienates segments of his audiences.

Feet in two countries, two professions

POSTED ON November 23rd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Nicholas Grene with his granddaughter Eliane.

Nicholas Grene is a professor of English at Trinity College but has also been a part-time farmer in County Wicklow since 1965, the year he turned 18. To explain that duel calling one has to tell his family story, and he’s done precisely that in “Nothing Quite Like It: An American Irish Childhood” (Somerville Press).

He was transplanted to Ballinaclash in 1952 from Illinois with his academic parents and his older sister. His Dublin-born father David would travel back to teach classics half of the year at the University of Chicago and would farm the other half. His mother Majorie Grene was, in addition to being a farmer’s wife, a leading American philosopher. Their son recalls in “Nothing Quite Like It” becoming the local Protestant National School’s 13th student and going on later to boarding schools in Drogheda and Belfast. His memoir is an account, too, of the vanished world of farming life dependent upon horses.

One of Ireland’s leading novelists, Sebastian Barry, describes Grene as “ever the elegant prose stylist” and “Nothing Quite Like It” as a “genuinely lovely book.”

In the Irish Times, reviewer Patricia Craig wrote that Grene’s book “can stand as a tribute to his parents, to the farm at Ballinaclash, to local traditions, to farm workers such as the independent-minded Tom Cullen (of ‘extraordinary character and charm’), to the whole of his rural/urban, outdoor/academic, insider/outsider upbringing. It is all recounted with great good humor, self-deprecation, zest and alertness, and makes invigorating reading.”


What is your writing

routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I always write in the morning for about three hours starting at around 6.30.  The rest of the day then can be spent on other activities, research, preparation for teaching, answering e-mails and the like.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Keep at it.


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

“Pride and Prejudice,” “War and Peace,” “The Great Gatsby.”


What book are you currently reading?

“The Color of Water.”


Is there a book you wish you had written?

Hundreds.  John McGahern’s  “Amongst Women” is just one.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

Colm Tóibín’s “The Master.”


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

Anton Chekhov.


What book changed your life?

No one book did anything so dramatic as that.  Reading “Portrait of the Artist” and “Catcher in the Rye” at 14 were experiences that made me feel like an adult reader for the first time; reading “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov” at 16 was something extraordinarily intense.


What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow, if it can only be one.


You’re Irish if …

You feel yourself to be Irish.


“Ashes” translation launched in New York

POSTED ON November 23rd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Frank McCourt in 2007.

Something wonderful happened in New York relating to the Irish language the other day: the launch of the “Angela’s Ashes” translation, “Luaithreach Angela.” “Angela’s Ashes” has been translated into 25 languages already and it has taken 15 years, since its original publication, for it to be translated into the Irish language.

There was a large crowd in attendance at the Irish Consulate in New York for the book launch. I got chatting to a man and we were discussing the importance of translation and the reason that it was translated. Obviously everyone in Ireland can read English but maybe the importance of the translation into Irish is that the book is even better in Irish — just as with the Irish National Anthem, “Amhrán na BhFiann.” Not many people are aware that the Irish National Anthem was originally composed in English and later translated into Irish.

St. Patrick’s resolution

I have made a decision regarding the Irish language and you have three months to prepare for it. As you may know, I go to various Irish events in New York each week and during the month of March 2012; I’m not going to speak English to anyone who can speak even a little Irish. That’s right, you are all going to have to speak to me in Irish.

Everyone who went through the Irish education system has Irish, it may be just a little, you may not even realize it. I am well aware of just how awful some of the Irish language teachers back home were (and still are) and this created animosity towards the language but we can change this.

I feel that the biggest issue people have with speaking the Irish language is lack of confidence. I bet you could think of a few sentences in Irish or might even be able to hold a simple conversation, so why not use whatever Irish you have and have more confidence in yourself? Use some Irish in your emails or write your Christmas cards in Irish this year. Don’t be shy or embarrassed because if you don’t have the Irish language you have nothing. If you don’t have respect for the Irish language well then why do you consider yourself to be Irish? The Irish language is more accessible to you now the ever before. There are classes held throughout New York area and in almost every city in the U.S. You can also become fluent in the language over the Internet.


Need assistance

I attended a conference in Ottawa at the end of last month entitled “20 years ahead: Research and Teaching Irish in North America” where we discussed the future of the Irish language here in the U.S. We are going to set up a committee who will manage the operations of the furthering of Irish language instruction and promotion. I presented a paper on “The History of the Irish language in New York City from the 20th century until today” as I am currently writing a chapter for my Ph D on this topic. I am in need of some assistance on this subject for my Ph D. I am interested in any information on the Irish language in New York. I am particularly interested in events that took place in Irish, Irish language classes through the years and photographs of Irish language gatherings and of the Irish Bookstore that was in Manhattan.             Please email me at: irishlangauge@gmail. com. I would appreciate any help on this. For the cause of the Irish language. Thank you.


Tharla rud iontach i stair na Gaeilge i Nua Eabhrac an lá cheana. Seoladh an leagan Ghaeilge den leabhar “Angela’s Ashes”, “Luaithreach Angela”. Tá “Angela’s Ashes” aistrithe i 25 teangacha cheana féin agus tar éis 15 bhliain cuireadh Gaeilge air. Bhí slua mhór i láthair ag Ard-Chonsalacht na hÉireann Nua Eabhrac don ócáid. Bhíos ag labhairt le fear agus bhí muid ag plé an tabhacht a bhaineann l’aistriúchán. Ár ndóigh tá gach aon duine in Éirinn in ann an Ghaeilge a labhairt ach an tabhacht a bhaineann leis an t-aistriúcháin den leabhair ná go mb’féidir go mbeidh sé níos fearr fiú ná an leagan Béarla ar nós

‘Amhrán na bhFiann’. Níl a fhios ag mórán daoine in Éirinn é seo ach cumadh Amhrán na bhFiann i mBéarla ar dtús agus ansin cuireadh Gaeilge air.

St. Patrick’s resolution

Tá cinneadh déanta agamsa agus tá 3 mhí agaibh le fáil réidh dó. Téimse amach chuig ócáidí cúpla uair in aghaidh na seachtaine i Nua Eabhrac agus le linn mí na Márta 2012, nílim chun focail Béarla a labhairt le duine atá fiú beagán Gaeilge acu. Tá Gaeilge ag gach duine a ndeachaigh tríd an gcóras oideachais in Éirinn fiú muna gceapann sibh go bhfuil. Tá lán-fhios agam go raibh (agus go bhfuil fós) droch mhúinteoirí ag teagasc na Gaeilge in Éirinn agua tuigim go maith gur chruthaigh siad drochmheas ar an nGaeilge ach i mo thuairim is é an fhadhb is mó maidir leis an nGaeilge ná nach bfhfuil muinín ag daoine iontu féin í a labhairt. Tá cúpla abairt ar eolas agaibh nó d’fhéadfadh sibh comhrá bhunúsach a bheith agaibh liom so le bhur dtoil bainigí úsáid as an nGaeilge a bhfuil agaibh agus bíodh níos mó muiníne iontaibh féin. Ní gá ach roinnt Gaeilge a chuir i ríomhphoist nó cárta na Nollag a scríobh trí Ghaeilge. Ná bíodh aon náire oraibh mar muna bhfuil Gaeilge agaibh, bhfuil tada agaibh? Tá sé níos áisiúil ná riamh í a fhoghlaim don chéad uair nó snas a chuir ar an nGaeilge a bhfuil agaibh. Tá neart ranganna Gaeilge thar fud Nua Eabhrac agus i ngach cathair sna Stáit Aontaithe nach bhfuil leithscéal ar bith agaibh freastail ar rang. Freisin is féidir leis an t-idirlíon cabhrú leat líofacht a bhaint amach sa teanga.


Need assistance

D’freastail mise ar chomhdháil ag deireadh na míosa seo caite in Ottawa faoi “Fiche Bliain atá Romhainn: Taighde agus Teagasc na Gaeilge i Meiriceá Thuaidh”, áit a raibheamar ag plé todhchaí na Gaeilge anseo. Tá muid le coiste a bhunú a mbeidh i gceannas ar stiúradh na Gaeilge chun dul chun cinn na teanga a chinntiú. Thug mise cur i láthair faoi “Stair na Gaeilge i Nua Eabhrac ó tús an 20ú céad go dtí an lá atá inniu”. Táim i mbun caibidil a scríobh faoi don Ph D.

Tá cabhair uaim le seo, má tá aon eolas agaibh faoi nGaeilge i Nua Eabhrac. Go háirithe táim ag lorg grianghraifeanna d’ócáidí bainteach leis an nGaeilge, grianghraif den Irish Bookstore a bhíodh i Manhattan fadó nó eolas faoi ranganna a d’freastail sibh air le blianta anuas. Seol chugam iad ag Bheinn fíor-bhuíoch. Ar son na cúise. Go raibh maith agaibh.

Branagh channels Olivier in ‘My Week with Marilyn’

POSTED ON November 16th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier in Simon Curtis's film "My Week With Marilyn."

For years, critics have been comparing the accomplishments of Northern Irish actor-director Kenneth Branagh to those of British stage and film legend Laurence Olivier.

After following in the late thespian’s footsteps with his own adaptations of “Henry V,” “Hamlet” and “Sleuth,” Branagh now plays the man himself in “My Week with Marilyn.”

Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie is based on “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me” and “My Week with Marilyn,” the memoirs of Colin Clark, an assistant on the 1957 film “The Prince and the Showgirl.” The film “My Week with Marilyn” is the unlikely, but supposedly true story of how Clark squired Hollywood screen icon Marilyn Monroe around England when she was there shooting “Showgirl,” much to the frustration of Olivier, who was co-starring in and directing the movie. Michelle Williams plays the vivacious, unpredictable sex symbol, Eddie Redmayne plays Clark and Julia Ormond plays Olivier’s actress wife, Vivien Leigh. The cast also includes Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Emma Watson, Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker, Dominic Cooper and Dougray Scott. “My Week with Marilyn” was largely shot in Pinewood Studios where “Showgirl” was also filmed.

Asked what he discovered about Olivier in preparing to play him, Branagh told the Irish Echo at a recent press conference in New York, “I think so much of it was sort of surprising, really, once you got under the skin of it all.

“There is a series of on-set photographs, which was very interesting to me, half of which show Olivier concentrating and directing the film. I’ve seen [Curtis] look like that and I’ve experienced looking like that, where there is nothing else in the world. And everyone says, ‘Are you alright?’ and you’re just concentrating,” the 50-year-old Belfast native went on to explain. “Half of the pictures were like that, but then half of them are of Olivier . . . by the camera, looking at Marilyn with his jaw open, just like a kid on Christmas morning.”

The actor added he thinks the ability to access an inner child-like quality helps make one a good performer.

“It means you’re completely in the moment. When you’re upset, you’re fully upset. All of you. When you’re happy, you are deliriously, fulsomely happy,” he said. “When I was a kid and I worked with Judi Dench for the first time, that’s what I observed in her, this capacity to be wholly and completely in the moment. And, in these pictures of Olivier, that’s what I was surprised by. That whatever the grand master of the English theater he was, he was also a kid with a train set, loving it. Just loving it and actually being really impressed and bewildered by how [Monroe] did it, being really fascinated by it. So, whatever masks he then put on and sort of covered up, he basically was a guy who loved what he was doing.”

So, what does Branagh think when people compare him to Olivier?

“I’m flattered by it, but I think you couldn’t help but fall short,” said Branagh, who is famous himself for the films “Dead Again,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Valkyrie,” as well as TV’s “Shackleton,” and “Wallander.”

“It also was the fate of good people like Anthony Hopkins and Derek Jacobi and other generations [of actors] as an indication of just how remarkable Olivier’s position was,” noted Branagh, who also directed the blockbuster “Thor.” “[Olivier] just was THE actor. He was the world’s greatest and most famous actor and he dominated in that position for so long that if you ever remotely went near a part that he played before, you were compared to him – usually unfavorably, inevitably. But I decided to just be flattered and then get on with it. This was a strange moment when Simon came to me about this to lay [to rest] that particular ghost by going at it head-on and actually playing him in a script that took him seriously not only as a performer, but as a person. That’s how I got over it.”

“My Week with Marilyn” is to open in U.S. theaters Nov. 23.

Piecing together a fine whole

POSTED ON November 16th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

“Fragments” • Texts By Samuel Beckett • Directed By Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne • Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th St., NYC • Thru December 4, 2011

Peter Brook is very probably the world’s most honored director of the plays of Samuel Beckett, the theater artist whose name is most closely linked with that of the late Irish playwright.

Brook clearly considers Beckett the most important playwright of the century in which he lived, but that doesn’t mean that his feelings for the writer he loves aren’t subject to subtle changes and alterations as time passes.

Some of those adjustments are fairly evident in “Fragments,” the five-part collection of brief Beckett pieces directed by Brook and playing through December 4 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

Beckett asked that the two characters residing in identical white sacks in one of the fragments, “Act Without Words II,” be goaded into action by long prods which would, in the writer’s instructions, “roll onto the stage on wheels,” which the playwright described as “strictly horizontal.”

Brook has the prod dropping down from the heavens, a kind of divine prompt to life. The Sunday Times of London objected, calling the change “too obvious,” and “precisely what the author wanted to avoid.”

Nevertheless, at the Baryshnikov Center, the prods descend from high above the stage, which is what Brook, not Beckett, desired.

The five plays represented in the intermissionless, hour-length production are mostly from the 1950s. In running order, the pieces are “Rough for Theatre 1,” “Rockaby,” “Act Without Words II,” “Neither,” and  “Come and Go.”

All five have appeared in earlier productions on New York stages. When Dublin’s Gate Theatre brought a Beckett season to Lincoln Center a few years ago, the plays were represented, although the seldom produced “Neither” was then titled “Footfalls.”

For his production of “Fragments,” Peter Brook, with the directorial assistance of Marie-Helene Estienne, chose a trio of excellent actors, all of whom have had extensive experience with London’s celebrated Theatre de Complicite.

Of the three, Marcello Magni and Jos Houben were, in 1983, original members of Complicite, while New York-born Kathryn Hunter came along a bit later.Born in Bergamo, Italy, Magni was a Complicite Co-Founder.

Samuel Beckett’s work can accommodate a certain amount of gentle tampering, but considering Brooks’s position as a dominant Beckettian, as well as the relative slightness of the pieces themselves, any changes at all tend to stand out and become fairly visible, as is the case with “Fragments.”

“Rockaby,” for example, is usually performed by a woman in a rocking chair, as it was clearly written to be done. Here, however, in a major shift, Brook has provided Hunter, an extraordinary actress making her New York debut, with an ordinary wooden chair and asked her to cope as best she could.

When actors Houben and Magni are working together, in “Rough for Theatre I” and “Act Without Words II,” Vladimir and Estragon come unavoidably to mind, as do Hamm and Clov, and perhaps even Mercier and Camier.

Houben and Magni, however, have sufficient presence and power to banish such images from the minds of audiences fortunate enough to catch one of the 29 performances “Fragments” will have given before it closes on December 4 at the Jerome Robbins Theatre on the third floor of the Baryshnikov Arts Center at 450 West 37th Street.

It isn’t often that New York audiences  have a chance to witness Peter Brook’s rethinking of the work, even minor work, of Ireland’s Samuel Beckett.

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