Rex Daugherty, the new Artistic Director of Solas Nua’s theatrical productions, wanted to plan something original for his first season. Not only did he come up with a play that’s different, and became the first American theatre company to produce the Irish play, but the company is performing it in a way that’s fairly unique. Its upcoming staging of Wild Sky will be performed inside private residences, and audiences will have a chance to see it starting April 28th.
“This is going to be a site-specific immersive production staged in private residences, so you get a living room theater experience,” Daugherty says. “It’s going to be a really intimate experience unlike anything D.C. audiences are familiar with. You’ll be up close with the actors nearly in your lap.”
Before the play even begins, those sitting in the living room environment will be treated to traditional Irish music and dancing, as well as a literal taste of Irish culture when soda bread comes out of the oven.
Wild Sky was written in commemoration of The Easter uprising of 1916 and originally commissioned by The Meath Country Arts Council. Daugherty first learned of the play last fall.
“I went to Ireland this past September for the Dublin Fringe Festival and I saw a reading of Wild Sky there—although it wasn’t part of the festival—and I knew I was looking for something this season that was about the 1916 Easter Rising because it was the 100th anniversary,” Daugherty says. “This was just a beautiful play and a beautiful love story with the history woven in in such a dramatic way. I knew this was a play I had to produce.”
Once the reading was over, Daugherty had coffee with Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan and it was all systems go from there.
“She’s having a fantastic season in the United States right now,” Daugherty says. “Her play Moment is running at Studio and she also has a play, Spinning, being done in Chicago, and has an Irish tour of Wild Sky happening in the U.S. this year.”
However, Solas Nua is the first American company to produce Wild Sky.
The play follows childhood friends Tom Farrell (Dylan Myers) and Josie Dunn (Megan Graves) fighting for an Ireland they can call their own. Josie is a dreamer while Tom gets caught up in the war because of his love for Josie. Both question whether or not there could have been another way to achieve their dreams.
“It’s a sort of unrequited love story, but also a coming-of-age story, and the characters are coming of age at the same time that Ireland is,” Daugherty says. “The country’s politics are reflected in a very human way and a very personalized way.”
Graves was interested in playing Josie from the moment Daugherty first told her about the part.
“Josie is one of the most dynamic characters I’ve seen recently and the play is such beautifully written, I was just drawn to it,” she says. “She weaves this beautiful imagery into it in a way that is very personal to the character. Josie is a lovely mix of a fresh perspective of womanhood, and someone who needs to make decisions based on what’s happening to her country.”
Graves was also interested in tackling a two-person play for the first time, especially since the play is written in monologue form.
“Josie is making her decisions and discoveries with the audience, through her monologues, and I was excited about the staging of it being so intimate, and working out the story with the audience being really present,” she says. “It’s very rare to find a piece written so well for a young female actress that tells such an important story.”
Daugherty knew finding the right two actors for this piece would be important and feels his job was made much easier when both leads agreed to do it.
“When a show rests on the shoulders of two people, cast and crew are very important and so I am thrilled to have two of the top, most exciting actors to work with in D.C.,” he says. “Megan and Dylan are both proven, talented and ambitious artists and it was a huge relief to get them both in the cast.”
He notes the show offers a perspective on Ireland in 1916 that is fresh and alive, as opposed to what you may read in the history books. And presenting that in a living room format was his biggest challenge.
“Making a really theatrical experience happen is an exciting challenge because we don’t have typical theater tricks—the smoke and mirrors or theatrical lighting—so we’ve come up with other solutions to those challenges that I think is really engaging,” he says. “For instance, the show is lit with all practical light, so actors are turning on lamps as they move throughout the room.”
The cast also features Daven Ralston, Beth Amann, and Ashley Zielinski as a chorus of singers, musicians, and dancers. They and others will help teach traditional Irish language, Irish dancing and Irish music.
“As soon as audiences walk in, we’re throwing people into a Gaelic League school,” Daugherty says. “I do think that it’s very educational, as far as the historical elements peppered into the script, and our audiences will in a very real way, get the characters’ backstories. We hope people will walk away with a few Irish phrases they can use.”