You have five more days to see—or to see again—the New York premiere of Brian Friel's late masterpiece, The Home Place, in its extended run. Between the rich language of the play—subtly heightened, but idiomatic to contemporary ears and sounding entirely convincing in the mouths of Irish and Anglo-Irish English-speakers of 1878—James Noone's evocative set, the unfailing precision and feeling of the actors, and Charlotte Moore's crisp direction, it provided the most absorbing and moving evening in the theater of the year.
Irish Repertory Theatre
After its impressive fall production of Conor McPherson's Port Authority (2001), the Irish Rep has moved on to an older play from an older generation, Hugh Leonard's Da (1978), which was a huge success in New York and on a ten-month American tour, winning all three of the major Best Play awards in 1978, the Drama Desk, New York Drama Critics' Circle, and the Tony. It premiered off-off Broadway, soon transferred to the Morosco Theatre on Broadway (which fell prey to the wrecker's ball shortly afterwards) and almost became a New York institution over its 687 performances. It was made into an American film in 1988, with Martin Sheen playing Charlie opposite Barnard Hughes, who created the role of Da on stage.
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.