Sunday 26 February 2017

First-night jitters as writer brings his play back home

But the author's hometown has suffered more than most in the downturn, writes Jerome Reilly

It's a strange kind of homecoming for Eugene O' Brien.

He wrote Eden, his devastatingly funny but poignant portrait of love and life in a small midlands town long before the Celtic Tiger sunk its claws into his native Edenderry.

Now more than 10 years after the play made its debut in the Peacock theatre, and later the Abbey, to wide acclaim he's bringing his play home to Offaly for the first time.

Eden's themes of lost opportunities, broken dreams and tough times in a town where there's really not too much happening are universal themes right across Ireland these days.

But Edenderry has suffered more than most in the last few years.

The heady days when a Taoiseach lived just down the road and eight-bedroom mansions were flying up on the outskirts of the town are long gone.

Now the numbers on the live register in Co Offaly have hit an historic high of 9,601 and house prices plunged 11.7 per cent in the last quarter -- the biggest drop anywhere in Ireland.

"I wrote the play more than a decade ago but in my mind's eye it was set a few years before that. That was a time when there wasn't that much happening in Edenderry and things were pretty quiet, so in many ways it's kind of the same."

Eden will play for four nights starting on Tuesday at Larkin's pub and restaurant in Edenderry just 200 yards from where O'Brien grew up.

Larkin's bar is a central location in the play itself -- though O'Brien changed the name to Flanagan's.

"I had some good times here as a young fella. I had a great time growing up here," he says.

O'Brien says he's more nervous than he cares to admit and knows he will be facing a tough audience.

"It's part of the character of the people around here. They are hard to impress," he laughs.

The play, a two-hander starring Hazel McLynn and Ben Mulhearn and directed by Ronan Wilmot, is about a married couple whose relationship is in deep trouble.

The husband, Billy, still thinks he's 17 and spends his time lusting after younger women, in particular the young and fragrant Imelda Egan who becomes the focus of his fantasies. He escapes his torment about a flagging libido by completing Edenderry's "holy trinity" of heavy drinking on Friday, Saturday and all day Sunday.

His wife Breda is lonely. She blames herself for his flagging desire after seven years of marriage. She is lonely and desperate to rekindle their love.

'Imelda Egan' -- the focus of Billy's desires -- is never seen in the play but the playwright says many people in Edenderry think they know who 'Imelda Egan' is based on.

"The funny thing is that every one has their own Imelda Egan so the answer is always different," says OBrien who also wrote Pure Mule, the gritty RTE series based around a long weekend in Birr, Bannagher and Tullamore.

"It's good to bring Eden home," he says.

Sunday Independent

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