Friday 19 July 2019

Eugene O'Neill festival to put New Ross on the global theatre spotlight

First ever American production for St Michael's Theatre

James O’Neill, father of Eugene, stars in the feature film ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’
James O’Neill, father of Eugene, stars in the feature film ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’

David Looby

The Eugene O'Neill International Festival of Theatre - which begins this Thursday in New Ross - will bring a host of international and local talent to the stage in New Ross.

Members of the New Ross Municipal District council, led by cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming, will afford a civic welcome to the Mayor of Danville, California, Mayor Newell Arnerich, and a group of 50 visitors to New Ross from Danville who will be attending the Eugene O'Neill Festival over the coming weekend.

This group includes Mr Dan McGovern President of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, based in Danville, along with other members of the civic authority there, and the director Eric Hayes and cast of Hughie, which will be performed as part of the festival; the first American production in the theatre.

The welcome reception is taking place at Brandon House Hotel on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The welcome event, which is marking a civic partnership between the two municipal districts which was recently established when a delegation from New Ross attended the first leg of the One Festival Two Countries Eugene O'Neill Festival in Danville last month.

The reception will feature the internationally renowned and New Ross based classical guitarist David Creevy and Celtic jazz singer Melanie O'Reilly who are collaborating in a special tribute to Ireland's national composer Turlough O'Carolan.

This collaboration received a standing ovation when Davis and Melanie represented County Wexford at the festival in Danville.

The festival will be both a cultural and a civic celebration of the strong ties between Ireland and the United States exemplified by O'Neill's Irish heritage.

Celebrating the life and work of the award-winning Irish-American playwright, the festival will host a collection of vibrant and exciting performances and events. Opening with a special, Irish debut screening of 'The Count of Monte Cristo', starring Eugene's father, James O'Neill in the lead role.

James left New Ross as a child during the Famine and despite the terrible hardship of his youth went to be a famous actor in the US, starring in the Count of Monte Cristo thousands of times on stage in a role he made famous.

The silent film, which was made in 1913 by the pioneering filmmaker Edwin Porter, has been acquired especially for the festival from the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

The film will be accompanied by a specially commissioned musical score by composer and pianist Phil Collins and introduced by Dr Richard Hayes of Waterford Institute of Technology.

Other highlights of the festival include a staging of the play 'Hughie', directed by Eric Hayes of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation in California, and daily performances of The Glencairn Plays staged onboard the famine ship, 'the SS Dunbrody.

There will also be a rare production of the play 'Mourning Becomes Electra', directed by Ben Barnes and featuring an impressive international cast.

On Sunday evening the festival will close by celebrating the playwright Eoin Colfer, whose very popular My Real Life will star the inimitable Don Wycherley.

This play had rave reviews when it featured at the Edinburgh and Dublin festivals and is being featured in the inaugural Eugene O'Neill Festival by popular demand.

The festival is part of the 'One Festival, Two Cities' initiative that also will see New Ross twin with Danville, California, the location of the Eugene O'Neill heritage site, Tao House, and home of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation who are collaborating with the O'Neill Ancestral Trust in staging the events.

Speaking on the festival programme, Sean Reidy, Chairman of the Eugene O'Neill Ancestral Trust, said: 'The festival acknowledges the importance of Ireland to Eugene O'Neill, America's greatest playwright. In some ways, the story of the O'Neill's runs parallel to the story of the Kennedys, a family forever now associated with New Ross; in both cases, illustrating the American dream, out of impoverished circumstances talented people rose to the highest level in their domain, whether that be politics or the arts. JFK became President of the United States; Eugene won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In celebrating Eugene and his father James we celebrate Ireland's influence on the world.'

The festival is supported by Wexford County Council. New Ross district manager Sinead Casey said of the programme: 'Rooted in the local community but also offering an international flavour, this new festival is a wonderful addition to the programme of artistic events taking place in New Ross every year. Festivals such as this attract many visitors into the town and this is very important for our continued prosperity and development.'

Tickets to the festival weekend events are available at St Michael's Theatre box office or online at

New Ross Standard