Thursday 14 December 2017

don't miss maeve's HOUSEEMER O'KELLY

emer o'kelly

With the Dublin Theatre Festival already officially under way, the line-up promises an interesting mixture of imports, home stalwarts and a few productions which come under the heading "important" ... although they may not be the productions that are most commercially successful.

The imported material carries a strong whiff of the "politically aware": message-driven, but not necessarily generically agitprop.

There is the Canadian Winners and Losers, a co-production between Theatre Replacement and Newworld Theatre. It's a "debate" between two actors who are also friends on diverse topics such as capitalism, Goldman Sachs, Pamela Anderson and microwave ovens, all examined through the notion of winning and losing, and is in part an improvised presentation.

The Portuguese production Three Fingers Below the Knee explores the destructive nature of censorship under the Salazar dictatorship (it's in Portuguese with English subtitles).

Ground and Floor comes from Japan to the Beckett Theatre, and Toshiki Okada uses a modern version of the Noh form to explore identity in the wake of national disaster such as the 2011 earthquake, in what he sees as a paralysed society. Such productions could be said to reflect festival artistic director Willie White's own long-time concern with political relevance in theatre; but he has also quite obviously been striving for a balance, with a programme of wider popular appeal.

And this is crucially important for a festival which has failed to find a title sponsor since Ulster Bank left the field in 2011.

The mainstream offers some spectacular treats, chief among them Frank McGuinness's new work for the Abbey, The Hanging Gardens, directed by Patrick Mason, which is an exploration of an artistic Irish family in crisis. It incorporates that staple of the stage, a family gathering ... in the year of The Gathering.

Downstairs in the Peacock, Eamon Morrissey presents his one-man show on the writer Maeve Brennan, who has been enjoying renewed celebration in recent years (Maeve's House is reviewed below).

The Gate offers a new translation of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera by Mark O'Rowe, whose name provides a fairly automatic recommendation.

It's directed by Wayne Jordan, and will be the Gate's first foray into musical theatre since a deservedly successful version of Sweeney Todd, which marked the theatrical debut of Camille O'Sullivan.

Anyone who was not lucky enough to see Olwen Fouere in her own adaptation of the final chapters of Finnegans Wake (a co-production between her company The Emergency Room and Galway Arts Festival) should not miss Riverrun, which will be at the Project.

It's breathtaking.

Beckett is not new at a Dublin Theatre festival, and a new production of Waiting for Godot will come to the Gaiety.

Conor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett and their Gare St Lazare Players are now synonymous with Beckettian magnificence, and the production is likely to be a treat for allcomers. There are other classics on offer, in highly innovative interpretations: the RSC with Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece at the O'Reilly Theatre; and Annie Ryan's Corn Exchange with what will undoubtedly be a thought-provoking version of Eugene O'Neill's seminal Desire Under the Elms at Smock Alley.

And Rough Magic step up to the mark with a new production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Critic: pure escapism with a sound satiric edge.

Spectacle is well represented by the extraordinary Australian company Circa making a return visit with Wunderkammer described as "a cabaret of the senses".

There's also a family season, and a series of side events headed by a special feature lecture to be given by Fiona Shaw, one of our more distinguished theatrical exports.

* * * * *

WHY did he wait so long? That's the only mystery concerning Maeve's House, Eamon Morrissey's new one-man play at the Peacock as an Abbey commission for the Dublin Theatre Festival. Morrissey grew up in 48 Cherryfield Avenue in Ranelagh in Dublin.

His parents bought the house from a family called Brennan, whose daughter had also grown up in the house. That daughter was Maeve Brennan, who was to become the Long-Winded Lady of New Yorker fame, and a short story writer of enormous talent and repute. Her end was to be as tragic as it was lonely.

Knowing this, and having sought out and met Maeve Brennan when he went to New York as a young actor in the Sixties, and been understandably fascinated by her, the only mystery is that Morrissey, as talented a writer as he is an actor, should have waited so long to give us Maeve's House. From the moment Morrissey describes riding the New York subway, feeling an eerie sense of recognition of the locale of the Dublin-set story he was reading in the New Yorker, realising it was his own boyhood home, and the author was Maeve Brennan, he has his audience hooked on an all-too-short journey through something that comes close to pure magic.

Brennan went to the US as a teenager when her father was appointed by de Valera as Irish legate to Washington (we did not have ambassadorial status then). She never returned, settling in New York, first as a copywriter with Harper's Bazaar, and when she was about 30, moving to her legendary stamping ground of the New Yorker, drinking, swearing and smoking her way into 20th-century literary history, and into and out of a doomed drunken marriage as well as numerous affairs.

But Cherrywood Avenue lived on as the source and setting for many of her bleak stories of unfulfilled and unhappy relationships. Morrissey weaves Brennan's own girlhood and young womanhood through his narrative, with highlighted excerpts from the work, and (admirably slight) cross-references to his own feelings and memories as the anchor.

Each character, from Brennan herself through her "creations" which bear uneasy resemblances to her own parents, comes vividly alive under the actor's portrayal, aided by Gerard Stembridge's directorial restraint. Design is by Niamh Lunny and sound by Ben Delaney.

Please, please, don't miss it.

Sunday Independent

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