Kerry roots help Jessica to flourish

‘Two of Clubs’ showing at Listowel Writers’ Week

Jessica Leen stars in the 'Two of Clubs'
Jessica Leen stars in the 'Two of Clubs'

Eve Dowling

Audiences at this year's Writers' Week in Listowel will take a journey into the past as Jessica Leen's debut play 'Two of Clubs' is showcased this year.

Jessica is Cork-born but her Kerry roots reach far. Her mother is from Killarney and her father is from Dingle but it is her uncle Donal Courtney - the Killarney man wrote God Has No Country about the life of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty - who nurtured Jessica's literary obsessions.

Jessica graduated just last July from The Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin and within a few months of her graduation she penned 'The Two of Clubs'.

Set in New York in the 1940's, the play premiered at The Theatre Upstairs in December and ran for two weeks to rave reviews.

Jessica's play is the story of a young Cork girl, Polly, whose dream is to be a singer. Having such a big dream in a small town wasn't quite the fit and all her family were concerned about was exactly when she was going to be married.

Under such pressure, she packs her bags and moves to New York, where she finds two new loves - jazz music and a fellow Corkonian Johnnie.

With plots of mistaken identity, emigration, war and the taste of stardom, exciting times lie ahead.

Jessica stars as Polly and she explains how she took on the role. "I definitely wrote the part of Polly for me to play it. I chose the jazz era because I have always been very attracted to that and felt I had a strong connection with it all - the Jazz Week in Cork was always the best week of the year for me, it was even better than Christmas.

"People say they see a lot of Polly in me but I don't really see it like that. The composition of the play is what ties the whole thing together for me. I couldn't have done it without the musicians Tiz McNamara and Dylan Howe, so it really wouldn't be the play it is now without this."

And Jessica as writer, composer and general star of the show, Jessica is looking forward to returning to the county of her literary roots.

"I am so excited to perform the play, particularly at such as respected festival as Listowel Writers' Week. It was surreal when they asked me to do it. I practically grew up in Kerry, I spent most weekends and summers in Killarney and Dingle and would consider myself a Kerry girl at heart. It's a dream come true to perform in Kerry."

For Jessica it had always been a dream to perform a play in Kerry. She holds a special place in her heart for Killarney as her grandfather was Michael Courtney who served as mayor on several occasions.

She hopes to someday perform one of her plays in Killarney and when asked how she was influenced by her Killarney uncle Donal, Jessica said his influence extended well beyond the county bounds.

"He was actually one of my teachers in the Gaiety. He teaches a workshop where we basically get to write and perform a piece each week. He really opened the door for me that writing was something that I could do and that when I graduated I could make a career out of this.

"From the get-go he showed me this whole other world of performing and writing. His workshop really showed me that I could do this, that I could write and perform my own stuff.

"When I was younger he would always bring me new books or take me to see new films. He always brought about this different aspect of things and he really got the juices flowing. He was influential for me when I was a kid and he is always happy to help me when I need his critique on something".

As for the future, Jessica has also composed a one-woman show called 'Waiting for Wifi' which explores themes such as depression, OCD and agoraphobia. She hopes to concentrate on this play in the latter half of this year.

Jessica's play will be performed at Listowel Writer's Week on Thursday, May 31, at 1pm in St John's Theatre.