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Artistic Director Wants to Bring Light to Irish Drama

JACKI LYDEN, host:

As my aunt Ali Lyden always told me before passing away last month at the age of 100, Ireland's changing, Jacki. Thirty-something Linda Murray says you're not kidding.

Ms. LINDA MURRAY (Founder, Artistic Director, Solas Nua): My grandfather will be 91 in two weeks' time and he grew up in Dublin his whole life. I mean, he goes to the pub every morning for his pint of Guinness and the barman is now Chinese. He goes to get his paper every morning, and the man who sells it to him is now Polish. And these are huge changes for him.

LYDEN: Linda Murray is the founder and artistic director of a new theatre company here in Washington called Solas Nua. The name means new light, and Murray wants to bring to light the art of her changing homeland. Murray says Solas Nua is the only theatre group in the country that performs only contemporary Irish work.

We asked Linda Murray to join us in studio with a posse of actors: Stephanie Roswell, Grady Weatherford and Adam Segaller. Welcome, everybody.

Mr. GRADY WEATHERFORD (Actor): Thank you.

Mr. ADAM SEGALLER (Actor): Thank you.

Ms. STEPHANIE ROSWELL (Actor): Thank you.

LYDEN: It's my understanding that you have a sort of a rigid application here saying that you're only do plays of 15 years or younger work.

Mr. MURRAY: Yeah, well, I feel like there's a lot of people out there who address Irish work because there is an interest among the Irish-American community and the American community at large about all things Irish. So I felt that the niche that I could fill and the particular vision I could bring to America was to focus on new work by artists.

So I set myself a 15-year ultimatum. If it's older than 15 years it doesn't matter how much I love it, I don't touch it.

LYDEN: What are contemporary playwrights doing that's different? Are they not talking about the Irish civil war? Are they not talking about the famine in Ireland? Are they not talking about the fight over land between the three sons of the family?

Mr. MURRAY: Well, I think Ireland as a country has changed dramatically. The focus on rural affairs has changed very much too in urban landscape now. The focus on poverty, the focus on oppression has gone to becoming a very wealthy country with mass immigration for the first time.

So culturally, socially and economically we're a very different nation than we were 20 years ago. So obviously the arts are going to reflect that.

LYDEN: And so who are some of these younger writers that you've done and are contemplating doing?

Mr. MURRAY: Well, I think at the risk of offending others, my two favorite writers coming out of Ireland at the moment would be Enda Walsh and Marco Rowe(ph). For me they're writers who 50 years (unintelligible) are going to be considered to be giants of theatre.

Marco Rowe wrote a play that premiered in the Abby this past June called "Terminist," which is written in Dublin slang but completely in blank verse, and it was one of the most phenomenal experiences I've ever had at the theatre. And Enda Walsh is a writer whose work we have long since championed. The very first play the company ever produced was a play by him called "Disco Pigs," which is written in a completely imagined language.

These are two writers who really know how to bend the rules of writing. And they take these wonderful imaginative leaps and if I could champion their work until the end of my days that's what I'll do.

LYDEN: Let's talk about this play that will be opening up next weekend. It's called "Portia Coughlan" by Marina Carr. This is about twins, right? Portia Coughlan is one of a pair of twins.

Mr. MURRAY: Yes.

LYDEN: They only come in pairs, of course. And the twin brother and sister have a suicide pact but Portia hasn't gone through with it and…

Mr. MURRAY: That's right.

LYDEN: …Gabriel the brother has.

Mr. MURRAY: So the play focuses on Portia Coughlan's 30th birthday. And what we learn throughout the play is that 15 years ago on her 15th birthday, she and her twin Gabriel made a suicide pact to drown themselves in the local river, the Belmont River. And at the last minute Portia decided not to go in but Gabriel drowned.

And on her 30th birthday in the morning she is visited by her twin Gabriel who reappears and continues to haunt her throughout the day of her birthday and the following day until she finally commits suicide.

LYDEN: Let's ask Adam Segaller and Grady Weatherford to do a little bit. Would you guys do some of this play for us?

Mr. SEGALLER: Sure.

Mr. WEATHERFORD: Sure.

LYDEN: Adam, what's happening in this scene?

Mr. SEGALLER: Well, this is a scene where everyone in the town has just seen Portia's dead body brought up by a crane from the river. And Danus Halley(ph), which is my character, is Portia's longtime lover. He kind of isn't allowed to mourn her because nobody knew. And Fenton Goulan is the barman who made a pass at her shortly before she died. So in a way it's their own little funeral.

LYDEN: And in this scene they're talking about how odd the twins were but also how close they were.

Mr. SEGALLER: (as Danus Halley) I'm telling you, there was always something strange about those Sculley(ph) twins.

Mr. WEATHERFORD: (as Fenton Goulan) What was that?

Mr. SEGALLER: (as Danus Halley) You ask them a question, they both answer the same answer exact same time, exact pause, exact inflection, exact everything.

Mr. WEATHERFORD (as Fenton Goulan) What about now?

Mr. SEGALLER: (as Danus Halley) You remember the school trip?

Mr. WEATHERFORD (as Fenton Goulan) Which one?

Mr. SEGALLER: (as Danus Halley) The one to Bettystown(ph)?

Mr. WEATHERFORD (as Fenton Goulan) No.

Mr. SEGALLER: (as Danus Halley) Portia and Gabriel sat up in the front of the bus in red shorts and white T-shirts.

Mr. WEATHERFORD (as Fenton Goulan) Whispering to one another is was their wont.

Mr. SEGALLER: (as Danus Halley) We got to Bettystown. Still the picture of the whole class, still can't tell one of them from the other. Anyways, the time came to get back on the bus, Portia and Gabriel was missing. Mad search went on, nary a sign of them. Coast Guard called in, helicopters, lifeboats, the works. Portia and Gabriel found five mile out to sea in a rowboat. They just got in it and started rowing. Poor old Ms. Sullivan in an awful state. What were (unintelligible)? What (unintelligible) us all?

We're just going away, says one of them. (unintelligible) in the name of the God, says Ms. Sullivan? Anywhere says the other of them. Just anywhere that's not here.

Mr. WEATHERFORD (as Fenton Goulan) Anywhere that's not here.

LYDEN: That was Grady Weatherford and Adam Segaller reading from Marina Carr's "Portia Coughlan."

Is it hard to do those Irish accents?

Mr. WEATHERFORD: It's hard to do them well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: I thought you did quite well.

Mr. WEATHERFORD: Thank you.

LYDEN: Not to try to, you know, peel away too many layers on the proverbial onion here but would you say that this is a play about Ireland's being haunted by its own past, about the way that the past does keep dominating you even when you try to escape it?

Ms. MURRAY: I think that's definitely a representation that's solid. I don't know that it's, I don't know that Marina Carr would necessarily say that's foremost to her mind when she was writing it. But I think every play that's being written at the moment in Ireland you can certainly make an argument that there is something going on about the larger situation of the country involved.

And I think it's quite easy to say that perhaps Gabriel represents an Ireland that is gone and Portia represents an Ireland struggling in the present. Beyond that, Marina takes Irish mythology and weaves it into a modern story. So in a very real way her writing is all about working Ireland's past into our present life.

LYDEN: Well, I'd like for you and Stephanie Roswell to also read, please, a scene from "Portia Coughlan," if you would, here. And, again, tell us what's going on.

Ms. MURRAY: So this is scene where Portia reveals to her aunt what the family doesn't know, which is the suicide pact.

Ms. MURRAY: (as Portia Coughlan) I knew he was going to do it. Planned to do it together, and at the last minute I got afraid and he just went on in. And I called him back but he didn't hear me on the count of the swell and just kept on waiting. And then standing on the bank right here shouting at him to come back. And at the last second he turns thinking I'm behind him. His face made, the look on his face.

And he tries to make the bank but the undertow (unintelligible) and a wave washes over him.

Ms. ROSWELL: (as Portia's Aunt) Gee, Pat, did you tell your mother and father about this? They don't like to talk about Gabriel, do they not?

Ms. MURRAY: (as Portia Coughlan) No one does. Don't know if anyone knows what it's like to be a twin. Everything's swapped and mixed up. And you're either two people or you're no one. He used to call me Gabriel and I used to call him Portia. Times we go so confused you couldn't tell who was who. We'd have to wait for someone else to identify us and put us back into ourselves. I could make him cry just by calling him Portia. We didn't really like each other that much when it came down to it.

How can everybody be alive and not him? If I could see him just once I'd be all right. I know I would.

Ms. ROSWELL: (as Portia's Aunt) But that's not possible, Pat.

LYDEN: That was Stephanie Roswell and Linda Murray reading from Marina Carr's "Portia Coughlan."

We want to thank Linda Murray, whose the founder and artistic director of the Irish Theatre Group Solas Nua. They're performing Marina Carr's "Portia Coughlan." It opens next week here in Washington, D.C. And we were joined by actors Adam Segaller and Grady Weatherford and Stephanie Roswell. Thank you all very, very much.

Ms. ROSWELL: Thank you.

Ms. MURRAY: Thank you.

Mr. SEGALLER: Thank you.

Mr. WEATHERFORD: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.