Chief Ike’s Mambo Room was the venue for Solas Nua and Forum’s Beckett 100 year birthday party on Tuesday night. I arrived around five thirty just in time to find the Solas Nua crew blowing up the balloons. Our staff writer Tim Treanor and his wife Lorraine Treanor arrived shortly thereafter and our reporting crew was complete!
The party – happy hour was a big success and fun was had by one and all. Birthday cup-cakes impaled with candles were handed out and everyone celebrated Beckett by blowing out the candles and singing Happy Birthday. The party goers were then recruited to participate in irreverent readings on the Mambo Room stage. There was even a short film in Beckett’s honor, all this wonderful fun was put together by Jessica Burgess, Michael Dove, Dan Brick and Linda Murray. Solas Nua and Forum have announced a Beckett festival this October.
We reached Solas Nua artistic director Linda Murray in Ireland for this interview:
Given Solas Nua’s mission of exposing contemporary Irish writers to the US are there any contemporary Irish authors that draw Beckett comparisons either fairly or unfairly?
Actually, ironically enough, the one writer who has drawn consistent Beckett comparisons is Enda Walsh who we championed this year. I think this is because both writers are extremely theatrical in the purest sense of the word. Both are completely aware of the sacred environment of the stage, and the elements that combine to form that magic space. Translating Beckett and Walsh out of theatre and into another medium is challenging at best and often flawed. Beyond that, Walsh inherited Beckett’s fascination with the human condition and the nature of existence itself. You see this clearly in “Disco Pigs”, in “The Small Things” which we’ll be doing next season, but above all in “Bedbound.”
Tell us about Solas Nua’s new production “Bedbound” and how challenging your role will be.
I would say that “Bedbound” is Walsh’s most accomplished play to date. The language is truly phenomenal and the relationship between the father and the daughter uncovers so much truth, although probably not a truth that we enjoy looking at too often. Walsh actually dedicated the play to his own father which people tended to regard as an insult. But even though Walsh said that “Bedbound” was the result of his relationship with his father, he meant no slur and by all accounts his father loved the play and was honored with the dedication.
As an actor, Enda’s writing always induces enticement and terror. He views the actor as a portal between worlds, a key to unlock the audience’s imagination, and so hinges the success or failure of his play on the performer. There is an awesome responsibility in this that is flattering but also exhausting. Drop your energy levels for a split second in a Walsh play and you shatter the illusion. I always liken it to a tightrope walk – just don’t look down.
However, the hardest part of “Bedbound” for me will be the physical restriction – my character is crippled so I’m not allowed to move. Walsh usually demands high-octane physicality, which I’m very comfortable with as my background is in dance. And I find that his language does propel you forward, the movement and the dialog fuse together until you feel that one couldn’t exist without the other. So my challenge is to find another way of working through the text that doesn’t rely on movement, to channel the energy of the language vocally. The writing is certainly up to the task, so I just hope that I can do my part come June…
Does going home for a visit enhance your creative drive? …..and if so elaborate on that for us.
Going home is always inspirational. Dublin has a vibrant arts scene, and there are always new plays, new companies and new writers coming to the fore. In Europe, companies also tour more, so a trip home means that I can also catch up with the theatre trends in France say, or Germany. I try to look for the work that is breaking new ground, or that has something significant to say. For instance, the Gate Theatre just closed a sold out run of Brian Friel’s “The Faithhealer” – sold out because Ralph Fiennes was in the cast – but that doesn’t interest me. I know Friel’s work, and he’s a wonderful wirter, but it is not telling me anything new. I don’t come out of a Friel production with a different view of the world. And that’s what I want.
However, there is often so much new work to choose from in Ireland, that my role as the AD for Solas Nua is not always an easy one. At the moment I have enough plays for three seasons, and new work keeps appearing. I consider this quite healthy, but it does call for some harsh decisions!
On this trip home I’m primarily focused on the Dublin International Dance Festival and of course the Beckett Centennial Festival. However, Enda Walsh has a new play in Dublin at the moment called “The Walworth Farce” which I’m due to see next week, and I also went to see the current production at the Abbey as they have a new Artistic Director, and I always like to have a sense of where the national theatre is headed.
Beyond that, I think that it is important for me and for Solas Nua, that I remain connected to Ireland. I am Irish of course, and I grew up there, but Ireland is very much a country in transition, and even a few years absence would render you a stranger nowadays. I try to get home at least three or four times a year for a month at a time so that I can speak with confidence and authority in the U.S. on the Irish arts scene. I never want Solas Nua to fall victim to what we Irish lovingly call the “leprechaun syndrome” – where Ireland becomes a mythologized place with no basis in reality. I think that’s why I’ll always try to divide my time between the two countries.
We asked Managing Director of Solas Nua Dan Brick this question:
“Dan if you could tell us a bit about the Solas Nua – Forum Beckett Festival this October. How did that come about and what will it consist of?”
I’m glad you asked. It was all my idea. When Solas Nua was doing Howie the Rookie at Warehouse Secondstage I approached Forum theatre (whom I had never heard of) because they were performing on the main stage. I know how much the main stage costs and figured they had some money.
Forum had never even heard of Samuel Beckett so they weren’t particularly eager but I at one point I mentioned the idea of having cake to celebrate his birthday and all of a sudden Forum was on-board.
As far as the actually festival itself goes we haven’t worked out all the details yet but I really like the idea of monkeys smoking cigarettes and Forum doesn’t really care as long as there is more cake involved.
Linda and Jessie apparently want to feature a combination of productions of Beckett’s shorter works, Beckett Scholar presentations, and readings of his poetry, short prose and larger dramatic works.
I will let you know the details as they become available but right now I’m thinking that it will probably be a one-night event at the Irish Embassy featuring a smoking monkey reading from Beckett’s early works while dancing on a flaming cake. Things could change but I hope not.
We asked Michael Dove about his Beckett roots:
Without trying to sound overly-praising and cheesey (as Beckett scholars often do), studying Beckett and exploring his work really helped me establish my theatre aesthetic–granted, at my relatively young age as a director. My background in theatre was primarily in design, so discovering this writer that is not only brilliant with language, but so attuned to the visual aspect of theatre, was quite revelatory.
When we started Forum a few years ago, it was an obvious choice to start with the Beckett short plays, our first DC production. I wanted it to not only establish our style for the audience, but for it to serve as a primer to our company of actors and designers for what we were trying to achieve. In Beckett, I see the marriage of the text and the visually abstract, the emphasis of design, the marriage of physical acting with rich language…everything that Forum strives to create.
Directing BECKETT: THE SHORTER PLAYS was my graduate program, my military service and my seminary all rolled into one.
You can see Beckett’s writing influence in many of the works Forum produces: Muller’s HAMLETMACHINE, Ami Dayan’s UpSHOT, and in a few of the projects in our upcoming season. There’s no active attempt on our part to choose work that has ties to Beckett—-but we acknowledge his legacy and importance to contemporary theatre. He simply decided that there were different ways to tell a story and opened the door for every playwright/choreographer/paitner/composer to come.
The festival in October is our way of celebrating these efforts.
And last but not least Jessi Burgess (who directed the fabulous Beard Of Avon at Rorschach) was asked a few questions:
Tell us a little about the upcoming show you will be directing for Solas Nua and how that came about.
I will directing Tom Murphy’s THE DRUNKARD for Solas Nua, which will run October 4 through November 5 at the Warehouse on 7th Street. Murphy, whose GIGLI CONCERT is currently running at Woolly, adapted the text from the 1844 American temperance play of the same name by W.H. Smith and A Gentleman. This prolific and celebrated contemporary Irish writer has placed this story in Ireland, but keeps the story set in the mid-nineteenth century. Moral and musical, moving and theatrical, THE DRUNKARD tells the story of a well-meaning young man addicted to drink, the faithful and beautiful woman who loves him, and the black-hearted villain who uses booze to tear them apart.
How I came to be directing this project is kind of convoluted story and – this is important to note – it contains the TRUE (i.e. not Dan Brick’s smoking-monkey mumbo-jumbo) story of how our Beckett celebration came about. Michael Dove (the Artistic Director of Forum Theatre Dance) approached me about putting an event together for Beckett’s hundredth birthday sometime in January. Michael’s a huge Beckett fan (his company had produced BECKETT: THE SHORTER PLAYS in their first DC season).
He knew it was Beckett’s centenary, that there were many festivals going on worldwide this year, and that there was an opportunity for Forum to get something put together in Washington. Michael contacted Linda Murray (Artistic Director of Solas Nua) knowing that Solas Nua would be interested in participating. (Forum and Solas had produced shows that ran concurrently at Warehouse – GAS HEART & HAMLETMACHINE and HOWIE THE ROOKIE, respectively – this past fall and had been thinking about ways to collaborate.) The first time that Linda and I met was at the first Beckett Festival planning meeting. Around the same time as that first meeting, I was directing a staged reading of Wendy Wasserstein’s UNCOMMON WOMEN AND OTHERS for the Actors Center, and I was in the middle of a casting search. Michael informed me that Linda is an actor (she’s terrific – make sure you catch her in Solas Nua’s production of Enda Walsh’s BEDBOUND coming in late June), so I enlisted her for a role probably at our first or second meeting. The reading came and went, and meanwhile we kept meeting about the Beckett Festival. Only Linda and Solas could tell you what relevance those two events have to what happened next, but one morning at Heller’s Bakery in Mount Pleasant, Linda waltzed in and handed me a script. I read it shortly thereafter, and fell in love with it. Without much ceremony, she hired me to direct the production. I could not be more thrilled to be working with such an exciting young company on such a wild and theatrical script.
The Beard Of Avon was very well received, how do the challenges differ between that show and your new (Solas Nua) show.
In some ways, it is startling how similar the challenges of BEARD and DRUNKARD are.
They are both modern takes on a particular theatrical and social period (BEARD being a spoof of Elizabethan England, and DRUNKARD being an adaptation of a 19th-century melodrama). Both require a tremendous amount of research into period literature as well as commentary on that literature. BEARD focused on Shakespeare and the dispute over the authorship of his work; DRUNKARD takes after the melodrama of the same name but also is indebted to other sources that Murphy credits, such as TEN NIGHTS IN A BAR ROOM by William W. Pratt and FIFTEEN YEARS IN A DRUNKARD’S LIFE by Douglas Jerrold.
With both plays, in spite of being period, there’s the challenge of the added layer of perspective with the writer being contemporary and, of course, the audience perspective being contemporary. With BEARD, we approached that challenge by applying the maxim: this is not a historical representation of Elizabethan England, but rather the modern Platonic Ideal of Elizabethan England. From that maxim, we were able to create a world that evoked Elizabethan England in the broadest sense which really helped us support the outlandish comedy in the script.
I am on the brink of cracking the maxim for THE DRUNKARD – but still have a lot of work to do to figure out the world of the piece. Right now I am in the researching period, watching silent movies, reading Murphy’s source material, reading various melodramas, reading Murphy’s canon, researching biomechanics and period movement, and looking into Irish history as well. So I guess the research is the current challenge, and then the next challenge is discovering how I can best tell this story for our contemporary Washington audience.
The most exciting and challenging component of THE DRUNKARD, and one that I have not yet had to face as a director, will be integrating live music with the stage action. In addition to some songs in the text, the script calls to be scored continuously (I’m imagining something akin to a silent movie score). Seeing THE GIGLI CONCERT was incredibly helpful to experience how Murphy uses music in his plays to heighten emotional engagement. In GIGLI, the arias are both moving and hilarious (like when the Irish Man listens to the aria and won’t let Jimmy speak, or when Jimmy, cunningly portrayed by Howard Shalwitz, sang at the end); in the case of this melodrama, the music will be completely overt in its sentimentality, walking the tightrope between telegraphing emotion and a more Kabuki-esque underscoring. It will be a lot of fun and a huge challenge, thats for sure!
Tell us a bit about the upcoming Beckett Festival
I am one of the organizers of the upcoming Beckett Festival, along with Michael Dove from Forum Theatre Dance and Linda Murray & Dan Brick with Solas Nua.
We were originally planning a festival to happen this week, around Beckett’s actual birthday, but instead threw a raucous birthday party at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room! We will be producing our festival to coincide with several exciting Beckett events going on in and around DC at that time. The Irish embassy will be hosting a gallery of art based on and about Samuel Beckett, The Gate Theatre (Ireland) will be bringing its production of WAITING FOR GODOT to the Kennedy Center, and University of Maryland is hosting a series of panel discussions about his work.
Our festival will feature a combination of productions of Beckett’s shorter works, Beckett Scholar presentations, and reading of his poetry, short prose and larger dramatic works. It will be Co-produced by Forum Theatre (www.forumtheatredance.org) and Solas Nua (http://www.solasnua.org), and will be supported in part by the Irish Embassy.
Well, thanks everyone for the interview. Your talents continue to amaze me.