Manhattan’s Irish Rep: ‘nobody’s done what we’ve done’
The Irish Repertory Theatre, now 25 years old, balances nostalgia with more experimental works
Tom Hanks with the Irish Rep’s co-founders Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly
Des Keogh and Vincent Dowling on the stage of the Irish Rep
In the words of Brian Friel, this is a sacred place. It is not a church, and was once a warehouse, but the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York has a faithful following that has kept it going for 25 years. As most theatres struggle, the Rep drew a record 45,000 people in its 25th anniversary season – up from 4,000 in year one – and it continues to attract major talents.
Tom Hanks hosted its annual fundraising gala recently, following in the footsteps of Katharine Hepburn and Jeremy Irons. Irish theatrical greats Milo O’Shea and Vincent Dowling, both of whom died last spring, acted at the Rep in recent years, and Dowling directed there as recently as 2009.
The list of names who have played in this tiny theatre in Manhattan’s Chelsea district goes on and on, from Anna Manahan and Mickey Rooney, up to, in its latest season, Julian Sands.
The theatre seats 140 people in its main space and 55 in its 340sq ft basement. For an off-Broadway theatre, it punches above its weight.
Some critics have hailed the Rep’s production of The Weir as the definitive version of Conor McPherson’s play. Indeed, the play is ending the theatre’s anniversary season with a bang, having been extended twice by demand.
The co-founders, accomplished actors and directors, largely attribute the Rep’s high profile to the quality of the work, and an endearing playfulness is also often evident.
Artistic director Charlotte Moore is an Irish-American from St Louis, and producing director Ciarán O’Reilly comes from theatrical stock in Virginia, Co Cavan. He’s related by marriage to Tony winner Brian F O’Byrne, and his cousin Peter O’Reilly founded the Súgán theatre in Boston.
Jewish and Irish audience
Much like Broadway, the Rep’s main audience is Jewish New Yorkers, who account for roughly 40 per cent of ticket sales. The rest are nearly all Irish Americans and those from Ireland.
The work staged is also a mix, encompassing within the past year everything from a reprise of The Quiet Man (Donnybrook) to the risque autobiographical play of a bisexual man from Tallaght (Johnny O’Callaghan’s contemporary Who’s Your Daddy?).
In this way, the Rep fulfils its stated mission and broadens its programming from Irish classics to work that appeals more to young theatregoers, with its second room used for more experimental work. “That’s the great thing of having two spaces,” said O’Reilly. “The studio can support plays the main stage could not.”