As I watched Margaret Mary-Rose O’Boyle and Hugh Francis O’Connell do their “on air” radio program from a friend’s mother’s garage, and announce the news of the day, like “Bingo is cancelled tonight,” or that “good weather was predicted because the cows were smiling,” it was hard to contain the laughter watching their antics. The show’s “off the wall” characters, and not-so-exaggerated version of Irish village life, was a pleasure to experience on many levels. That it was a brand new, contemporary play; featured a simple set with three enthusiastic and enjoyable actors, an up-close; an intimate setting with only about 50 seats in the house; and so inexpensive at $25 a ticket. It’s a reminder that lavishness does not automatically equal success.
Ardnaglass on the Air, directed by Geraldine Hughes (photo at top) has such a unique and fresh approach to live theatre. The stage contains a podium, some miscellaneous antique radio equipment, including a microphone that Frank Sinatra might’ve sung into, a large Jesus portrait with the bleeding heart (a must-have in every Irish household), a few chairs and an old fashioned “on-air” sign that signals when the station went “on.” The 75-minute performance covers the day’s programming, as performed by the talented Jimmy Kerr (also the playwright, photo above) playing Hugh, hilarious Jo Kinsella as Margaret, and observer Jonathan Judge-Russo playing Fabian, a visitor from London, a BBC intern from Argentina. We find out that Margaret met Fabian the night before during her evening job at the village bar; she’s immediately smitten with this guest, not only with his prestigious BBC-connection, but with his smooth Latin accent.
The audience is treated to a charming and dead-on version of village life with a barely audible remote report by villager, Patsy McCloskey (not seen) who comments on the big tractor accident, or the traffic problems because of the milking of the cows, or Margaret’s arguments with husband (not seen) while trying to conduct a radio program. There are hokey commercials, a riotous report about the upcoming crop season and livestock sale. And the beautiful thing is that it’s all done respectfully. Yes, we hear the thick Irish brogue, but we also are reminded of the care and concern that villagers have for one another, and the coziness of small town life. Everyone’s in everybody else’s business, but that’s how it is. It’s so unique, so unpredictable, and downright funny.
But the best part—I’m being careful not to reveal too much—is the love from afar that Hugh has for Margaret, and how this Fabian gets thrust in the middle. Watching Margaret grow more attracted to her BBC guest, and her inability to hide that lust, is something that can be a star-maker. It was apparent by the laughter throughout, and the rousing applause at the conclusion, that this is a winning production. It was, for me, like the first glimpse of what is a brilliant and entertaining new sketch on Saturday Night Live. I will be very surprised if this show does not play for a longer run, or these three funny and talented actors don’t get snatched up by TV executives.
Ardnaglass on the Air is part of the Third Annual 1st Irish Festival. It is directed by award-winning Irish actress/director/author Geraldine Hughes, and presented by the Hamm & Clov Stage Company. Additional showings at the Manhattan Theater Source, 177 MacDougal Street, will be held on September 19 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., September 21, 22, 23, 24 at 9 p.m., and September 25 at 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tickets are $25, (seniors and students $20, at the door only).