Druid's 'Inishmaan' production highlight of cultural season


THE DRUID production of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, which opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington last night, is one of the highlights of the year-long “Imagine Ireland” cultural season in the US.

Irish Ambassador Michael Collins and his wife, Marie, had hosted a reception to welcome Druid’s artistic director, Garry Hynes, who founded the Galway- based theatre company in 1975, and the cast.

“These are tough and challenging times in Ireland, but we also like to play to our strengths,” Mr Collins told guests from the Irish and American artistic communities who had gathered for the reception on Monday night in advance of last night’s opening.

Among them was Alicia Adams, the executive from the Kennedy Center who programmed the play about islanders confronting the arrival of an American film crew in 1934.

“We are happy that this year of all years, we have Imagine Ireland going on in parallel with the other news,” Mr Collins said.

Druid co-produced this production with the Atlantic Theater company of New York.

“The play had a sold-out, three- month run off Broadway last year,” Hynes said. “You couldn’t get a ticket for love or money and out of that has come this tour “

The production opened in Roscommon in late January and travelled to Boston before Washington. Mr Collins quoted the Boston Globe’srave review: “Wonderful.” He also mentioned the Washington Post’spraise of Swampoodle – named after the 19th-century Irish immigrant neighbourhood in Washington – as “one of the top five artistic events of the coming year”.

A reviewer for New England Artsmagazine wrote that he would “brave the snowstorm of the century to see a Martin McDonagh play performed by an Irish cast”.

The young Irish playwright, who was “discovered” by Hynes in 1995, is “blessed with an astonishing ability to create moments of genuine sadness (or outright horror) and then skilfully cut them with his pitch-black humour,” the reviewer wrote.

The Boston publication Phoenixcalled McDonagh’s portrayal of Aran Island life in 1934 “heartstabbing, hilarious and often as deadpan as Beckett”.

Eugene Downes, chief executive of Culture Ireland and the main organiser of Imagine Ireland, delivered his assessment of the festival after its first month: “We have more than 1,000 Irish artists from theatre, dance, film, visual arts, architecture, literature, music, fanning out across the US, more than 400 events confirmed in 42 states.

“Literally every day there is an Irish artistic event reaching a new American audience . . . Cultural links are long-term links.”

Druid’s contribution to the festival is one of the most significant.

Enda Walsh’s Penelope, a modern-day version of Homer’s Odyssey, in which four men wearing Speedos stand in an empty swimming pool, watching Penelope on a television screen, will move from London to Washington’s Studio Theater on March 15th.

Druid’s production of The Silver Tassieby Sean O’Casey will be performed at the Lincoln Center in New York in July.

It adds up to 132 performances over 22 weeks, the longest tour by an Irish theatre company in the US since the 1930s.

In mid-tour, Druid will take The Cripple of Inishmaanto the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin from February 21st-March 5th, before travelling on to Chicago, the Mark Taper forum in Los Angeles and other US cities. “We are going to meet ourselves coming back,” Hynes joked.

The play will move to Galway in late June, then complete its run on the island of Inis Meáin – for the first time – on June 26th.

“You’ll have this very strange thing where a group of actors playing Inis Meáin islanders are in the local hall performing the play, watching a film of Inis Meáin people made back in the 1930s,” Hynes said.

“I should think that’s going to be special.”