Thursday, May 18, 2006

Word-of-Annette

Saying very much about a show that hasn't yet opened can be a thorny matter. That whole not-having-seen-it thing is more of a handicap than some think. Luckily, for the large number of shows that arrive this way after an opening run in Galway (courtesy of Druid theatre company) my Auntie Annette is often on hand to provide the early word on those out-of-town debuts.

This Connemara-based mother of five is dutiful in her attendance of Druid shows, but equally unstinting in her appraisals of what she sees. Not an ardent fan of Synge (despite living within sight of the Arran Islands) her word on Druid's extended cycle of the playwright's work last year was "I hope they get back to doing some ordinary plays soon." When the Druid returned, this year, to performing contemporary work, with Enda Walshe's The Walworth Farce, Annette's response was a slightly quizzical thumbs up. "It was hilarious, but mad."


And the Druid's latest show, Gary Hynes's version of John B Keane's The Year of The Hiker? When it opened in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, earlier this month, Annette, bad knee and all, was on hand to encapsulate the evening. "I enjoyed it," she says. "But I didn't like it."

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Selling flowers

Predicting what a production will be like when Annette hasn't even seen it remains a fraught matter, as some documents uncovered by this column (hidden on the internet) prove.

Australian playwright, Peta Murray's play Wallflowering (the Irish premier of which is at the Project next Monday) is set to be a film starring Christopher "Back to the Future" Lloyd. So naturally enough, the film's producers conjured up a little document for potential investors explaining the merits of this ballroom-dancing based romance.

Answering its own question "How Successful can this film be?" the producers offer for comparison how sucessful other films targetting the same market have been. These films include the J-Lo/Gere vehicle, Shall We Dance ($164 million, as you ask) Chicago ($239m) and Moulin Rouge ($176m). The producers also note that there are "currently 648,000 Internet sites devoted to ballroom dancing" as well as "27 million avid movie-goers in the US over-45" for which Wallflowering is conceived to be the perfect product. All of which, by the way, must be good news for the Irish stage producers, Tall Tales Theatre Company.

What is most fascinating about the producers' pitch, however, is that the reasons given for making the film are all related to the existence of a market for that film. That, presumably, is why most films get made, but not why most plays get written, or most theatre productions happen. Most, that is. But now, with the distressing arrival of Irish theatre productions, such as the Gate's Friel/Fiennes product, apparently designed from conception as Broadway money-spinners, are the days numbered when a play is written and produced because it contains something worth saying?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

100 Minutes

Synchronicity is a guiding force behind an unusual new production from Painted Filly Theatre Company, a group of American theatre folk based in Dublin. That quality so beloved of Sting and Carl Jung, has brought together writers, performers and directors from everywhere from to Texas to Tasmania, from Detroit to the Arran Islands.

“Each member of the company picked two people we wanted to work with,” says Jennifer Killelea one of the three members of Painted Filly. “And then asked them all to write a ten minute play. And then we did the same ourselves.” As it happens, the company had made friends on planes and trains – along with the odd coffeeshop -- around the world. So the invites went out.

The notion of creating a program of ten-minute plays was brought to the table by another company member, Nick Johnson. “Nick had experimented a lot with ten minute plays when he was in Northwestern University. We wanted to get a lot of writers who we knew around the world and showcase their work, so creating a program of ten minute plays seemed like a great way to do that,” says Killelea, whose day job is a venue manager at Filmbase.

According to Killelea, the brevity of the ten-minute form do not make the business of constructing a working drama any easier. If anything, the job is slightly harder. “You still have to have the same kind of dramatic arcs, they just have to happen a lot faster. And most of all, you have to find some way of creating a character that you care about almost immediately…there tend to be a lot of brief encounters.”

But even within those strictures, some writers have attempted to make their jobs just a little bit harder. Ivy Alvarez (who originally comes from the Philippines, but is now living in Cardiff) has contributed The Quarry, a thriller. “If you can imagine a ten minute thriller,” says Killelea, “with little plot twists every two minutes.”

A local contribution to the evening comes from composer, Aengus Ó Maoláin, a member of Anuna, who also works with the vocal group, Bulraga. His play, A Song about Boris Borg, is an experimental piece dealing with the noises that you might hear while biding your time in an unspecified waiting room. And if that idea conjures up the frightening prospect of dental intervention, don’t worry, in this particular waiting room, release is never further than ten minutes away.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nick Patricca's Church

An unblinking vision at the contemporary Catholic Church in the US is
in store in the first production in Dublin from Chicago playwright and
theologian, Nick Patricca. For Patricca it is a subject matter with
which he is more than familiar. Teaching at Loyola University, the
largest Jesuit university in the United States, since 1968, the play
comes from a lifetime of experience.

"I know and have known hundreds if not thousands of gay clergy," says
Patricca. "I also have a firm grasp of church politics as well as of
official and unofficial thinking."

Despite the title, one of the most celebrated literary figures to crop
up in the play is the poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
who also taught at UCD in the institution's early years.

Patricca aims was "to show how terrible the predicament was for
Hopkins, that he had to choose between his understanding of god and
Christianity on the one hand and his sexuality on the other. I wanted
to show that it is possible to be true to one's self and also true to
Christianity and even to the Catholic Church as a priest."

He does this, however, through the character of a modern day priest
working in Chicago, where, more than a century later, the church is
being forced to take a more ad hoc approach to its priests' sexual
orientation.

The play concerns Fr. Gerry, a gay priest who has recently split from
his lover, after failing to resolve the conflict he feels between his
sexuality and the church. Meanwhile, the nasty Archdiocesan
apparatchik, Monsignor Bononi, is busily trying to sell Fr. Gerry's
church out from underneath him. The land value around these parts, it
seems, is far too high to justify anything as frivolous as a church.

"I do not see Msgr. Bononi as a bad guy. I think he is doing his job
rather well. Like him or not, or like his positions or not, I think he
has a clear vision of what must be done to save the church, and what
price must be paid."

"Most of the events and characters in the play are based on real
happenings and people in Chicago from around 1990 through till today,"
says the playwright. "The first priest I know of in Chicago to die of
aids was forced into silence about his condition, as the play states,
otherwise the archdiocese would have withdrawn his health insurance."

The question of health insurance for priests came up, when Patricca's
research lead him to discover the peculiar employment status of priest
in the US. In American, most parish priests are, in fact, classified
as 'independent contractors', while bishops enjoy an almost unique
status in the US:

"They and baseball are the only legally protected monopolies in USA."