With St. Patrick’s Day only a week away, and “Danny Boy” heard in many a pub, Solas Nua, the DC based company dedicated to Irish arts, is presenting the American premiere of Fiona Doyle’s Coolatully, which tells the tale of other young men facing the need to leave home.
The Irish playwright from County Kerry was inspired to write the play when, on March 2, 2014, she came across three articles spread across two pages in the analysis section of the Sunday Independent under the title of “The Devastation of Rural Ireland.”
“The articles focused on how the recession had ripped the heart out of rural communities—Garda Stations were being shut down because of budget cuts, the elderly were feeling increasingly vulnerable and isolated and some villages couldn’t muster enough young men for the local hurling teams because of the huge number emigrating to places like Australia and New Zealand,” she says. “All of this content seemed to me to hold the ingredients necessary for the play that eventually became Coolatully.”
Set in 2014 in the fictional, rural village of Coolatully, the story follows Kilian, once the town’s pride and joy, and its champion on the hurling field. Now the village can’t muster a team, Kilian is on the dole, and everyone he knows is leaving Ireland for jobs abroad.
The show features David Mavricos as Kilian, Kiernan McGowan as Paudie, Jenny Donovan as Eilish and four-time Helen Hayes nominated actor Brian Hemmingsen as Jimmy.
Hemmingsen is returning to Solas Nua for his fourth production and says the play has a lot to say about any small town facing hard times, Irish or elsewhere.
“It’s about how there’s no future for a lot of kids and I play the old guy watching the village closing down, and I’m closing down, watching these kids smoking cigarettes and vandalizing things,” he says. “It’s about my relationship with the young kid who screws up and it’s a lovely relationship. It’s all quippy, but it’s about love most of all.”
The actor says he was excited to get the chance to work with Daugherty.
“I think Rex is brilliant and I’ve watched a couple of things that he’s directed, which I thought were stunning, and I was ready to sign up for this in the drop of a hat,” he says.
When he was younger, Hemmingsen thought he had some Irish heritage, but has since learned that he’s English, Lebanese and American Indian. He has always been drawn to Irish plays. He was especially drawn to the emotions of the play and the humor that comes out, as well.
“In real life, when people deal with drama, it’s not all dead serious. You have to have some humor as it’s just a way for people to deal with things,” he says. “You still have the time of mourning and destitution but why not do a little humor? That’s the way that a lot of people are in the world, including the Irish. You have to laugh at the dark because it’s just so absurd.”
As one of the area’s most veteran and noted actors—he’s going on his 42nd year—Hemmingsen looks for parts that move him and challenge him.
“I started with various theater companies and I’m just looking to tell the truth. I haven’t worked in a year and a half, and that’s by choice. I didn’t want to do something I didn’t want to do,” he says. “Solas Nua is a little gem in my heart. I was in their second show ever and I have a special relationship with them.” [/ezcol_1third]
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Produced by Solas Nua
March 9 – 26, 2017
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Despite its darkness, Hemmingsen says of Coolatully, it’s quite beautiful.
“To me, theater has always been about enlightenment. I don’t have a high school education but I saw plays and my education came from everybody else who was educated around me. To me, the theater shows you things that you might be feeling but don’t know how to express.”
Fiona Doyle is looking forward to having her work come to America.
“I know that Solas Nua has a keen interest in contemporary Irish theatre so I’m sure they’ll take good care of the play and give it the best production they can,” Doyle says. “And I’ve heard that there’s a vibrant Irish diaspora in D.C., so hopefully there’ll be an audience for the play out there. I never know how an audience will interpret the work and I don’t ever sit down to write something in the hope that it will get some ‘message’ across. All I do is try to write the best story I can at that point in time and hope that it might connect with people in some kind of honest and truthful way.”