Ireland

The Bark and the Tree, by and starring Vivian Nesbitt United Solo Prizewinner 2013

Mary Eva Kelly and her Descendant Vivian Nesbitt meet at Lisdonagh House, Headford. Photo. John McHugh.

Vivian Nesbitt, born in Ohio and currently active in Albuquerque New Mexico, where she is Director of the Sol Acting Academy, studied acting in New York, and has been working in theater for many years as an actor, writer and teacher. Her play, The Bark and the Tree, is substantially autobiographical, but it transcends her personal perspective and the specifics of her own life into potent themes, like what is passed down in families, ancestry, history and its deliberate remaking, one’s debt to the past, art, creativity, and, ultimately, our spiritual lives, which form a continuum beyond life and death. She addresses all this from deep personal experience, which gives all these different aspects of her play substance and ballast, so that one would have to be a total clod, or stone drunk, not to be engulfed by her story and enlightened by it. You know what it’s like when the faeries and leprechauns come out. I assure you there are none of them here.

A Year of Beckett in New York

Lisa Dwan in Not I. Photo Richard Termine.

This is probably the best occasion for me to come out of the closet and confess my secret vice—a mild fondness for the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. A viewing of NYGASP’s The Yeomen of the Guard with an entirely unvictorian companion set me to thinking about certain genres of theatre and opera in which performance practices are prescribed by tradition or even some legal entity. NYGASP is well-known for throwing in a few uncanonical details, but basically they cleave to D’Oyly Carte’s no longer legally binding restrictions, because their audience of devotees expect that—in fact they derive great pleasure from stage routines which have no meaning whatsover in contemporary theater outside of a G & S. Perhaps the tastes of loving audiences have proven more binding than the D’Oyly Carte copyrights.

riverrun runs wild in Brooklyn, with performance artist Olwen Fouéré

Olwen Fouéré in riverrun at BAM. Photo Rebecca Greenfield.

You’ve doubtless read somewhere or another or heard someone say that our relationship to novels is much like our relationships to people (our relationships to their authors, living and dead, are a whole other thing). That may sound trite, but it has its degree of truth. In no case is it so true as in the case of Finnegan’s Wake. In most cases James Joyce’s last novel is like some celebrity academic, who jets constantly between, say, Paris and Berkeley, but never crosses our path. Others may have approached the great man at the podium after a lecture and tried to ask a private question, only to be

Port Authority, by Conor McPherson, with Billy Carter, Peter Maloney & James Russell, by the Irish Repertory Theatre, New York

James Russell, Peter Maloney, and Billy Carter in Port Authority at the Irish Repertory Theatre

There seemed something symbolic in the front doors and lobby of the DR2 Theatre, temporary home of the Irish Repertory Theatre. As one walks in off the street, one finds a shallow vestibule followed by another shallow space occupied by the ticket office and the concession stand, liberally stocked with alcohol, as it should be in an Irish theater, after two or three steps, a small waiting room, then down a short black corridor into the auditorium. I don’t think I’ve had quite that sense of openness and accessibility before in entering a theater. Irish theater is everywhere, and, apart from being a powerful force simply on the quality and scope of the work that’s being done, it is open and accessible to all. New York continues to be in the thrall of the London stage, as always, and certainly not for the worse, but when London comes to these shores, as in last winter’s visit of the Globe company, the event is highly publicized, tickets are expensive and hard to get, and the Broadway theaters claustrophobic, as New Yorkers crowd in to contemplate Shakespeare and his heirs as if it were the theatrical equivalent of the Crown Jewels. It seems like two different worlds.

John Banville’s Love in the Wars after Kleist’s Penthesilea at Bard Summerscape

Chris Stack (Achilles) and Birgit Huppuch (Penthesilea) in Love in the Wars. Photo Cory Weaver.

If one has read one’s Classics, or has acquired a passion for ancient literature later in life and has read, say, Homer and the tragic poets with some attention, or, perhaps I should say, is older than fifty, one, in some human situation, whether intimate, passionate, urgent, or trivial, will occasionally get an uncanny feeling that one is living out Greek myth—that under one’s skin Achilles, Hermes, or Thetis are making us act and speak from within, as if we twenty-first century humans were nothing more than costumes for some drama of great antiquity that plays itself out continuously over millennia in strands intertwined with other narratives. Is this fate, or archetype, or merely common or garden human nature, observed as keenly by Homer, Pindar, and Euripides as by Dickens, Nietzsche, or Proust?

John Banville talks to Michael Miller about Love in the Wars, his English adaptation of Kleist’s Penthesilea

Heinrich von Kleist and John Banville

John Banville and Michael Miller discuss Love in the Wars, his free English adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist’s play, Penthesilea, with a digression about the rest of Mr. Banville’s work, before returning to the play, which will receive its world premiere at Bard College Summerscape. Kleist’s theatrical ambition was to fuse Greek tragedy with Shakespearean “burlesque.” The work shows his pessimistic world view spiced with black Prussian humor.

W. B. Yeats and Ireland: Photographs, Music, and a Reading, with Dorien Staljanssens, James Cleveland, and Lloyd Schwartz

Portrait of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) by John Butler Yeats (1839-1922). National Gallery of Ireland.

In the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas as a time for quiet reflection and a turning inwards, we’d like to offer a gift of a recording of New York Arts‘s second performance event, held on June 1, 2013, at 7 pm, in connection with my own exhibition of photographs of Western Ireland at the Centerpoint Gallery in New York City: a reading/concert in which the acclaimed poet, Lloyd Schwartz, Senior Classical Music Editor of New York Arts, read poems by W. B. Yeats with interludes of traditional Irish music played by Dorien Staljanssens, flute, and James Cleveland, fiddle.

Philadelphia, Here I Come! By Brian Friel at Donmar Warehouse

The old sod. No one ever asked for Delta blues to be any sadder or Irish drama to be any more Irish. As art it feels totally transparent. You get the impression that the scripts are achieved by walking down any Dublin street with a tape recorder, and the casts tumble out of a city bus at the back door of the next theater. This naturalness has the effect, strange as it sounds, of making the whole audience feel Irish by intermission. I thought I heard people around me saying “boyo,” “mammy,” and “What are you blatherin’ on about?”

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