Mark Your Calendars for the Irish Rep’s Theater@Home Winter Festival

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The Irish Rep is offering a winter series of repeat showings of the nine productions they streamed in the fall. The Rep is encouraging donations of 100 for the entire series or $25 per show for those who can give. Each production will stream one day a week through Feb. 21.

I saw many of these and highly recommend all of them. I certainly will be viewing some of them a second time. For information contact IrishRep.org.

Molly Sweeney January 26, February 6*, 13, and 18* Reserve now  
Love, Noël: The Songs and Letters of Noël Coward January 28, February 3*, 14, and 20*, 2021 Reserve now   A Touch of the Poet January 30, February 4*, 12, and 16* Reserve now
Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom January 27, February 2*, 14, and 17* Reserve now  
Belfast Blues January 29, February 7*, 13, and 17* Reserve now  
On Beckett / In Screen January 31, February 5*, 10, and 20* Reserve now
The Weir January 27, February 6*, 9, and 19* Reserve now  
Give Me Your Hand January 30. February 7*, 10, and 21* Reserve now  
Meet Me in St. Louis January 31, February 3*, 11, and 21* Reserve now
*Open Captioned Performance. All performances during the second week (2/2–2/7) and fourth week (2/16–2/21) will feature Open Captions.

Capsule Review of Some of the Productions.

Give Me Your Hand was filmed at the National Gallery of London, though the Irish Rep had presented it live on stage in 2012. It is a reading of the poems of Paul Durcan, a well-known and popular Irish poet. The subtitle of the piece is A Stroll through the National Gallery of London. Why? Because each of the poems was inspired by a painting at the National Gallery.

Two of Ireland’s leading actors, Dermot Crowley and Dearbhla Molloy stand at podiums while the inspiration painting is shown in the background. It might not seem theatrical, but it definitely is.

Durcan, doesn’t just describe the painting or the scene that it depicts, but instead uses the work as a kite into his imagination. He creates stories around them or relates them to modern times. Thus a painting by Gainsborough becomes the story of a young wife who murders her husband and a painting of a Belgium couple turns into a modern couple, he a poet.

Crowley and Molloy don’t just read. They perform these works, becoming the characters in the paintings and in the poems, carrying on conversations and totally absorbing us in the stories that Durcan has created.

It is magical blend of poetry, art and theater.

 “Belfast Blues” – A Deeply Moving Personal Story

The Irish Rep made available through streaming the terrific one-woman show Belfast Blues, written and performed by Geraldine Hughes.

It is autobiographical, focusing on Hughes’ childhood in Belfast during the time of “the troubles.” Her family was Catholic and lived with the random bullets and police and military raids from that period in the ‘60s,’70s and ‘80s.

If one-person shows often are lacking, Belfast Blues shows you how it should be done. Hughes introduces us to many characters and creates them with voice and mannerisms so you can instantly identify them and understand them.

What makes Belfast Blues so compelling is not only the story; it is Hughes’ ability to inhabit each of these characters so fully that you see them. You end the play feeling as though there were multiple performers on stage. She also so convincingly played a young girl and adolescent with accuracy.

 “Meet Me in St. Louis” is sweet and heart-warming. For this production, director Charlotte Moore (who actually played Mother in the original Broadway production) has further adapted the show to fit the necessities of streaming. Since the performers were each filmed in different locations, group dance numbers are omitted and some songs were removed. Moore provides useful narration to help set the story.

This is an old-fashioned show with a plot more like those of the early 20th century than anything from the last fifty years. It focuses on young women plotting to get their men, along with the

It’s the music that counts and in this respect, the cast couldn’t be more perfect.  Most are seasoned Broadway performers: Shereen Ahmed was playing Eliza Doolittle in the national tour and Max Von Essen has a long list of musical credits. They capture the young Esther and John perfectly: Esther plotting to meet him and John unsure and a bit reticent.

The other lovers –Ali Ewoldt as Rose and Ian Holcomb as Warren – manage the somewhat one-dimensional characters well. Warren is caring and steady and Rose is flighty.

Melissa Errico is wonderful as Mother in “You’ll Hear a Bell” and in “Wasn’t It Fun?” with Rufus Collins as her husband.

You will enjoy this light-hearted musical. It shows you what can be done in our time of quarantine.

Bill Irwin & Samuel Beckett – Perfect for 2020. In 2018, I was blessed to sit in the audience at the Irish Rep and see Bill Irwin’s creation On Beckett. At the time, in my review I called it a masterclass in acting. It was magnificent. Other critics and audiences thought so too; the run sold out and Irwin received awards for his work.

In the year of the pandemic, Beckett’s writings are even more relevant. After all, he often seemed to have a nihilistic view of the world. Several of his works explore both the need for human connection and isolation. His play Endgame could be set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Irwin has adapted his original work to reflect the current situation. On Beckett/ In Screen was filmed on the Irish Rep stage and anyone who loves theater and fine acting should hope that it will be available again.

During the 80 minute, one man show Irwin focuses primarily on Waiting for Godot, which he played many times in different roles and Beckett’s Texts for Nothing, short writings that were published in 1950. In the three that enacts (numbers 1, 9, 11), he brings the text to life and creates a character that you will identify with and be interested in.

He brings not only an actor’s sensibility and instinctive knowledge, but he draws on the clown traditions. After all, Waiting Godot has often been performed by classic clown actors – Robin Williams, Bert Lahr and Bill Irwin.

Irish Rep does outstanding production of “The Weir. ” The recent production of The Weir by Conor McPherson is a compelling story. In this Irish Rep production, you would hardly know that each of the actors was filmed wherever they were – Connecticut, New Jersey, etc. They had costumes, props and a set.

To quickly summarize the plot, The Weir takes place in a pub in a small Irish village on a very windy night. Three men – the pub owner, Brendan and two neighbors, Jack and Jim are hanging out. Each is a bachelor and at least mid-thirties if, not older. The talk turns to Finbar, a real estate broker who once lived there but now is more “citified.” They comment that he will be bringing in Valerie, a young woman who has just moved into the village. Finbar sold her the cottage. The men are perturbed and perhaps jealous that the married Finbar is escorting this attractive young woman.

Once the two arrive, after some awkwardness (Valerie asks for wine which Brendan has to go into his house to find), the conversation turns to telling stories. The stories modulate into tales of unusual events, bordering on the supernatural. Towards the end of the evening, Valerie reveals why she has moved to the village and her ghost story. The stories rely to the Irish predilection for beliefs in fairies and ghosts.

It might not sound fascinating, but it is. McPherson and the cast use the power of the words of the stories to weave a web that will draw you in. You will wonder where it is going and will see how the stories relate to these people who are lonely and isolated.

What comes through is the love among the group and the empathy as they hear Valerie’s story. By the end of the evening, it seems as though each has reached a better understanding of themselves and gained a comfort.

Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet. was in rehearsals last March.

The play, which was not produced until after O’Neill’s death, fits into a specific genre of dramas, one that is often seen in Irish plays. The genre is about a character, almost always male, who has delusions of grandeur involving either his past or future and the women who both cater to it and are destroyed by it. A substantial amount of alcohol is usually involved.

In A Touch of the Poet, the man is Captain Cornelius Melody, who once served on behalf of the English in Portugal and Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. That is true; he did serve with apparent distinction and was an officer. It is also true that he grew up in Ireland with money and an education.  He forgets that his father ran a shebeen (an unlicensed pub) before making a small fortune.

But Con, as he is called, no longer has the money; he has immigrated to Boston and owns a run-down tavern which makes little money, mostly likely due to his consumption of the product. But he has maintained the belief that he is “gentry” and therefore obviously above the other Irish residents; he even feels better than the longtime New Englanders, no matter how wealthy. His wife Nora, whom he regularly insults for her lower class origins, tries to placate him and cater to his every wish. His daughter, Sara, waits tables but is much more o to the sham of his pretentions.

With that as a backdrop, the play focuses on Con finally being forced to see reality. His daughter has been nursing in an upstairs room, a young man who went, Thoreau-like, to live in the nearby woods and became ill. They fall in love and she sees a way out of her life; the young man comes from a wealthy New England family.

You can be sure that it will end with not only Con’s dreams shattered but hers as well.

Poet is the type of play that many modern women find exasperating. Con is a bully and his friends, wife and daughter let him.

Poet is about how we all have illusions about ourselves, fantasies that we come to believe and dreams that are impossible. Removing these, not matter how self-deluded or destructive they are, can destroy the individual.

Director Ciarcán O’Reilly innately understands the material and helps his fine cast to portray it. Robert Cuccioli blends Con’s bluster and ego with an underlying hint of self-awareness. You sense that he realizes his fall in stature and that he is, in so many ways, ridiculous. When he goes into one of his cold, mean-hearted and cruel rants to both Nora and Sara, you feel absolute hatred for the man. But Cuccioli also understands that this is a man driven by self-hatred and doubt, not only of himself as an individual, but as an Irishman in Boston.

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