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
Being the only dedicated Irish theatre in New York, and one of very few in the States, is, he says, “a big distinction, one that often defines us, but maybe corners us as well”.
The Rep was created to showcase “Irish and Irish American” works, tagging on “and [that of] other cultures” to its mission statement 10 years ago, O’Reilly says. Still, some of its supporters might question any play that is not Irish.
The irony, O’Reilly notes, is that Irish theatres are more than happy to stage foreign work – in Dublin, the Gate Theatre is currently staging Tennessee Willliams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Williams was from Moore’s hometown of St Louis, and once wrote a part for her (Helena in A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur).
Nostalgic old Ireland?
Does the Rep put on work that’s more nostalgic than it would were it in Ireland? “There are those who come for that very reason,” says O’Reilly. “Instead of going down the road to the pub they’ll come on a Sunday afternoon and visit Ireland with The Weir.”
Whatever the choice of plays, each is staged exactly as he would do it in Ireland, he says. “There’s no Americanisation of any of the plays.”
In fact, some plays that Des Keogh adapted from John B Keane’s work, including The Love-Hungry Farmer, premiered at the Rep before going on to be hits in Ireland. Similarly, The Irish . . . And How They Got that Way was written in 2000 by Frank McCourt as a sketch to run one fundraising night. It wound up as a full play and television production.
McCourt’s widow, Ellen, is chair of the Rep’s board. Speaking on the night of its 25th gala, she jokes that “Ciaran and Charlotte are like an old, married couple”.
Moore and O’Reilly might be just business partners, but, says Moore, “We share a shorthand”, and they frequently finish each other’s sentences. When asked what’s left undone, O’Reilly begins, in his soft Cavan accent: “Well, there’s sustainability, we need to make sure before we . . . ”
“Die,” interjects Moore. “[We need to ensure] that it keeps going at a high level. Nobody’s done what we’ve done so we don’t want it to disappear. That would be terrible.”