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Irish Repertory Theatre

Jimmy Titanic – The Sinking and Afterlife


I saw a production of Jimmy Titanic with this actor and director in 2012 at a tiny walk-up theater on the Upper West Side. Apparently it’s toured since then. I’m delighted theater-goers finally have an opportunity to experience the piece during a formal run. Some descriptions are from the previous critique.

Portraying over 20 characters including John Jacob Astor, the prissy, Puckish Angel Gabriel, and a cynical, laissez-faire God (who chain smokes), actor Colin Hamell shape-shifts with the best of them. A wide variety of accents are employed. Most offer distinctive cadence, though the American one might best be described as “gruff.”

The small W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre is deftly utilized. Direction by Carmel O’Reilly seems somewhat louder and broader than that which I recall, but remains engaging. Performance is energetic, and impressively focused. The addition of Michael Gottlieb’s utterly symbiotic Lighting Design and evocative music/sound  which is curiously uncredited add immersive atmosphere. (Gottlieb’s riveted, ostensibly steel walled Set is perfect.)

We open in Heaven where Jimmy Boylan, former shipyard worker and sailor, is putting us on with the testing of ill fitting wings. “We don’t really have wings up here.” Nicknamed Jimmy Titanic by curious admirers—“It can go to your head”—he and his mate Tommy Mackey went down with the ship. He was 25 at the time and wonders  after all these years, what really happened. The tale is a combination of Jimmy’s experiences and enacted response to his questions.

As the hold floods, Tommy, who knows all six million rivets and every passage, leads Jimmy out on deck. There were fewer lifeboats than prescribed, enough for perhaps half the passengers (regulations were minimal and more boats would have blocked the view) and there had been no emergency drill. Further indications of incompetence make one wonder how easily the incident might’ve been avoided. A Spanish speaking passenger, desperately trying to get his family into a lifeboat, doesn’t understand English warnings and gets shot by a panicked seaman for his desperate efforts. The situation in a nutshell.

In another memory, Jimmy and Tommy, up to their ankles in freezing water, spot John Jacob Astor and Jacques Futrelle drinking and smoking in the library “as if on a beach.” The seamen are invited to have a drink. With Astor’s encouragement, Tommy proudly expounds on the building of the ship. “Me, I was more interested in how John managed to land a 19 year-old.” (Astor’s honeymooning bride survived.)

Segueing between unimaginable tragedy, the singular point of view of a surprised, young victim, vignettes in the offices of the New York Times and the Mayor of Belfast (where the ship was built and blood sport attributing blame plays out), and Heaven (comic relief) is adroit. We even listen to two boys watching the Titanic head to sea. One is in awe and dreams of traveling to America, while the other skeptical. “What do they have in America that we don’t have here in Cork?” he demands. “Food and work,” comes the answer. His companion is unconvinced.

The firmament is a hoot. Jimmy’s pick-up lines while on the make at a disco (watch this actor mooove!) and his self imposed rules on fraternization are as lighthearted as Gabriel’s remarks about the NDs (newly dead) or his comments about the disaster “’Ever hear of Driver’s Ed? Big object in front of yuz, steer around it!”

Playwright Bernard McMullen’s perspective manages to be at once original, moving, humorous, and informative. You can’t help but be thoroughly entertained.

As the unsophisticated, jaunty, likeable Jimmy, Colin Hamell is irresistible.

On its maiden voyage, the supposedly “unsinkable” RMS Titanic hit an iceberg, sinking in The North Atlantic Sea  April 15, 1912. Out of an estimated 2,224 passengers and crew, many below deck immigrants, over 1,500 died.

Colorised photo of Ned Parfett, best known as the “Titanic paperboy,” holding a large newspaper banner advert about the sinking, standing outside the White Star Line offices at Oceanic House on Cockspur Street near Trafalgar Square in London SW1, April 16, 1912. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Production Photos by Carol Rosegg

Tir Na Theatre Company presents
Jimmy Titanic by Bernard McMullan
Performed by Colin Hamell
Directed by Carmel O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre    
132 West 22nd Street
Through February 18, 2018

Listen to Alix Cohen talk about covering theater on WAT-CAST.

The Emperor Jones – Extraordinary Theater


Serious voodoo is being practiced on West 22nd Street these days. Prepare to be immersed in the vengeful actions of a spirit world made lucid by a sensational production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones.

Brutus Jones (Obi Abili), having killed another man in a dice game, was jailed in the States, but somehow escaped to a Caribbean island. Details are kept pointedly unclear. During a confrontation in the backward village where he found himself, Jones’ antagonist shot to kill, but his gun misfired.

Thinking quickly, the erstwhile target declared he couldn’t be dispatched by a lead bullet, only one of silver. Natives assumed all powerful magic. The interloper became a barbarous, self-serving Emperor. Savvy and prepared, money sequestered outside the country, he’s ready to flee when the time comes.

2 men

Andy Murray, Obi Abili

Jones is informed by cowed confederate, Henry Smithers (the only white man), that his “palace” servants have deserted him for the jungle. Response is disdainful and cocky. When sinister drums start, he nonetheless realizes time has come to abandon the ersatz throne. It’s three hours till nightfall, Jones knows the route out, and has cleverly hidden food. What could go wrong?

The rest of the chronicle follows his journey. Impeded by nature made hostile; haunted, torn, and misdirected by “the invisibles,” he suffers exhaustion, starvation and madness.

There are an infinite number of ways one might manifest the above. The symbiotic creatives at Irish Rep, under the adroit helm of Director Ciaran O’Reilly, offer a visually and audibly inventive, palpably menacing, magical scenario. O’Reilly, proven skillful with both naturalism and musicals is also apparently superb with the inconceivable. Concept and coordination are as outstanding as his lead’s performance.


Actor Obi Abili plays Brutus Jones as if possessed. Credibly egotistical and amoral, his character’s progressive shock and terror at what he’s experiencing is apparent from eyes to bodywork. We feel him wracked both by emotion and actual obstruction.  You’ll feel yourself tense and wince. The fire-in-his-belly performance is memorable. This is only Mr. Abili’s second appearance in the United States. Watch him rise.

Unfortunately Andy Murray seems not to have figured out who Smithers is, which communicates as being insubstantial onstage.

Barry McNabb’s terrific Choreography shapes not only an evocative ceremonial dance by the Witch Doctor (a sinuous and emphatic Sinclair Mitchell) but movement and mood of trees/vines and creatures.


Puppet and Mask Design by Bob Flanagan utilizes a variety of styles all of which manage to coexist in a fantastic realm, delivering constant surprise and delight. These are some of the best I’ve seen since the work of Julie Taymor.

Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab create Sound Design and Music which buoys atmosphere and elicits shuddering anticipation.

Antonia Ford-Roberts and Whitney Locher imagine flora costuming that almost disappears into the set. The Witch Doctor appears authentic. Jones’ costume is just right. Charlie Corcoran’s Set Design as effectively lit by Brian Nason brings the jungle to animated life.

An experimental play one might call exemplary of Magical Realism – a term coined long after the work’s inception, 1920’s The Emperor Jones  signaled the first popular success of playwright Eugene O’Neill. Unlike anything else the iconic author had written, the piece appears to have been inspired by his political views on the U.S. “imperialist” occupation of Haiti (beginning in 1915, but subsequent to the drama’s setting) and influenced by inbred Catholicism (wages of sin) as well as intimate knowledge of personal (familial) demons.

The Irish Repertory Theatre’s muscular interpretation is not to be missed.

The rest of a remarkable company: William Bellamy, Carl Hendrick Louis, Angel Moore, Reggie Talley

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening Obi Abili

Irish Repertory Theatre presents
The Emperor Jones by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through April 23, 2017

The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal – A Modern Fairytale


Eddie The Pigeon (John Keating) lives at The Taj Mahal Trailer Park in West Ireland. Since his mamie died, the good-hearted, pixilated, rather simple, thirty-some-year-old is alone in the dilapidated home they shared. His needs are simple, met by hiking 7 miles to a mall. Lengthy conversations to himself include quotes by Elvis Presley (his hero), mamie, local faerie folklore, and what sounds verbatim like an old encyclopedia.

One night, Eddie comes home to find a girl passed out in the woods. (We’ve watched her unceremoniously dumped there by a young man who quickly drives away.) Lolly (playwright, Laoisa Sexton) is wearing a t-shirt, tutu, silver, cork heeled sandals, and a pink feather boa. Her tights are torn, her leg bruised, heavy rock n’roll make-up smeared. She looks cheap and high. Eddie hauls her into the trailer like a rag doll, cheerily talking.


Laosia Sexton, Zoe Watkins

Eventually, after MUCH exposition, she wakes and turns on her savior -also with MUCH exposition- ricocheting between grisly threats, chatting about the dance from which she’d come, and bragging about her enormous, upcoming wedding to the creep who left her there- as if she and Eddie were old friends. Go figure.

When Aunty Rosie aka Crystal Chandelier (Zoe Watkins, dressed in kind) shows up by taxi toting a naked, inflated doll replete with erection (don’t ask), the women dance and tease Eddie offering sexual favors he barely comprehends. All is copacetic until Josie (Johnny Hopkins) comes back looking for drugs left in his jacket pocket.


Zoe Watkins, Johnny Hopkins

Charlie Corcoran’s Set, the cross section of a trailer and adjacent woods (lit by Eddie with Christmas lights), is just right- worn, spare, confined. Martha Hally’s gloriously tacky costumes imaginatively fit situation and character.

Director Alan Cox utilizes the small space with creativity. Relationships are visually as well as verbally illuminated. The inflated doll is integrated to droll advantage. When the party drinks and snorts coke, induced states are completely credible. A single violent gesture is beautifully staged. What occurs offstage is well communicated. Reining in Ms. Sexton would’ve helped the piece.

John Keating, with a record of successful appearances at Irish Rep, never disappoints. Here, he’s innocent, forthright, and appealing throughout, never losing focus, never anything less than true to Eddie.

Zoe Watkins does a fine job inhabiting floozie, Aunty Rose. The actress is as physically specific as she is emotionally. Johnny Hopkin’s Josie is a yeoman like bully.

As Lolly, playwright Laoisa Sexton too often seems too forced. It’s difficult to discern how much of this is due to over writing, however. An exception is the change of heart about her host which we watch develop with pleasure.

The girl is unconscious a very long time. When she wakes, Sexton doesn’t give her heroine time to evolve from angry/frightened to gossipy/trusting. At one point, Eddie spends an ungodly period in the bathroom so Sexton can give Lolly and Rosie alone time. Faerie folk, vis a vis legends and an unseen beast, seem stuck in after the fact. On the upside, much detailed dialogue effectively sets class, time, and place, situation and characters might be otherwise intriguing. The play needs editing, but most of all, we need to care. And don’t.

Note to theater: It’s extremely distracting to hear music and dance (pounding feet) from the production upstairs.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Zoe Watkins, John Keating, Laosia Sexton

The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal – A Modern Fairytale by Laoisa Sexton
Directed by Alan Cox
Irish Repertory Theatre   
132 West 22 Street
Through December 31, 2016

Finian’s Rainbow – Fantasy, Romance, and Politics


Over and above enchanting music and a fantasy love story, this 1947 musical features corrupt politicians, vast economic disparity, blatant racial bigotry, and hope for the future, borrowing a premise from another story whose rainbow is pivotal. Need you ask why now?

How does it hold up? Well, songs are still swell, though somewhat thinner due to a small cast , the two attitudes/subjects remain strange bedfellows, and the piece has been so condensed that its romance proceeds with enough speed to give you whiplash.


Ken Jennings and Melissa Errico; Ryan Silverman and Melissa Errico

This is not so say Rainbow Valley, Missatucky (Mississippi and Kentucky) is not an entertaining place to visit. (Whimsy later includes the Shears-Robust catalog.) James Morgan’s charming set, dripping with foliage, flowers, song scores, and storybook sentiment, creates an immediate aura of illuminated make-believe. By the time the small band, replete with lovely harp, begins its mini overture, we’ve settled in with pleasant expectation.

The tobacco growing valley is occupied by black and white denizens who get along just fine, thanks. Because of a proposed dam raising property values, Senator Rawkins (Dewey Waddell – terrific accent and bluster) has sent his right hand man Buzz (Matt Gibson) and the local Sheriff (Peyton Crim) to seize the land from owner and occupants through successive nefarious citations. Our hero, Woody (Ryan Silverman – clean cut presence with an engaging baritone), is determined not to let this happen.

Rawkins is an out and out bigot, neither immigrants nor blacks escape southern condemnation. When Sharon challenges him with The Constitution, the Senator responds,”I haven’t had a chance to read it. I’m too busy defending it.”

The Company

Arriving at a critical juncture, ostensibly from Ireland, are Sharon (Melissa Errico, whose lovely trill first buoyed the role a dozen years ago) and her pixilated father Finian (Ken Jennings). Finian carries a carpet bag with a stolen crock of gold he buries, believing proximity to Ft. Knox will make it grow. A Leprechaun named Og, the crock’s rightful owner, has followed them to America. (Dancer Mark Evens-too tall and completely unsympathetic.) Og is becoming more human every day, suddenly pining after every woman he sees.

Unaware she’s standing near the gold, Sharon wishes the Senator was black (so that that he’d experience prejudice). Apparently the crock is invested with three wishes. Horrified, at the color of his skin (and all it implies), Rawkins runs away…returning later to be changed again twice, once internally, once externally. The order of these is particularly important. Word gets out there’s gold in the hills which causes a Rube Goldberg effect of assumptions, solving things. Of course. The company is solid. Solos by Angela Grovey and Kimberly Doreen Burns stand out.

Lyrica Woodruff and The Company

To my mind, the find of the evening is Lyrica Woodruff  (Susan the Silent). The performer is utterly captivating. Expressions are innocent, animated, and appropriate.  She dances like a dream. Unfortunately, the production saw fit to make her up (the only red lips on the stage) and outfit her like a ballerina in The Nutcracker instead of as a simple, young woman. She looks as if she wandered onto the wrong set.

Director Charlotte Moore has a painterly feel for creating pictures, whether still or moving. The show moves fluidly. Characters’ perspective is well realized. I tend to take issue with any production whose personnel plays to the audience and not each other, however.

Choreographer Barry McNabb does a spritely job with brief dance turns by the cast and a splendid one with Susan’s numbers. Costume Design by David Toser is attractive and cohesive except for Og’s get-up which looks like he’s trying too hard.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: The Company

Finian’s Rainbow
Music: Burton Lane, Lyrics: E.Y. Harburg, Book: E.Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy
Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore
Musical Supervisor: John Bell
Orchestra: Geraldine Anello, Janey Choi, Nina Kellman, Melanie Mason
Irish Repertory Theatre 
132 West 22nd Street
Though December 18, 2016

Afterplay – A Gem


Sonya (Dearbhla Molloy) aka Sofia Alexandrovna Serebryakov and Andrey (Dermot Crowley) aka Andrei Sergeyevich Prozorov met as strangers last night in an all but deserted Moscow café. (It’s the 1920s.) When he returns this evening, he’s delighted to find her at the same table, albeit buried in paperwork. Andrey cordially reintroduces himself. Sonya remembers. They had talked of chilblains cures (both being of an age), his talented family, and the difficulties of living alone. She’s a spinster, he’s a widower.

Apparently a practical woman, Sonya’s clothes are plain, dun colored, and warm, her grey hair pulled back. She’s come to the city to settle her Uncle Vanya’s much in debt estate (yes, that Uncle Vanya.) “With all the dogged determination an indecisive man could muster…” he ran it into the ground and then died.


The balding Andrey wears white tie and tails (somewhat the worse for wear) and carries a violin case. A widower, he travels to the capital for intermittent work, leaving behind sisters Olga and Irina; a third sister, Masha had killed herself over unrequited love. (Those Three Sisters.) Andrey has come from rehearsal of La Bohème at the opera house. A speech about hard chairs and the musician’s solution is adroit.

Familiarity with Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters is not a prerequisite. Though recall adds dimension, back stories are clear. As Andrey eats his meager cabbage soup and Sonya drinks her glass of tea, the sympathetic travelers talk about their lives. Bit by bit, eventually sharing a bottle of vodka she has sequestered in her bag, they both reveal little fictions offered to the other in order to appear finer and more stable. Warmth is palpable, but circumstances – complicate.

Brian Friel has written an immensely delicate piece. The first time one hears the name Vanya, it’s difficult not to wonder whether the play is an exercise, something the playwright might’ve created to amuse himself. By virtue of its unfussy truth and superb performances, however, the writing captures and holds attention.


I can’t imagine a more balanced pair of actors. Both are exquisite listeners. Both seem completely natural. Every tone and gesture is colored by the character’s history, reserved feelings, and unspoken thoughts. Molloy and Crowley seem completely invested in a real time experience. A treat!

Director Joe Dowling has a light touch with serious subjects and skill with slow revelation. His characters are flesh and blood.Pacing is perfect.

John Lee Beatty’s Set Design offers the solid weight of old world Russia, once elegant, now faded. Fabio Toblini’s Costume Design arrives as if respectively lived in.

It should be noted that the downstairs W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre has been renovated and enlarged much to its benefit and ours.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Irish Repertory Theatre presents
Afterplay by Brian Friel
Directed by Joe Dowling
Featuring Dermot Crowley & Dearbhla Molloy
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through November 6, 2016

Shining City – Unmoored in A Crowded City


In essence, Shining City (last seen here on Broadway in 2006), is another of playwright Conor McPherson’s ghost stories. This one, however, alludes not only an “actual” spirit, but city lives lived, despite liaisons, without roots or attachments, adrift in limbo.

Still living with unopened cartons, fledgling therapist Ian (Billy Carter) welcomes his first patient with professionalism that covers insecurity.  John (Matthew Broderick) evidently tried to get an appointment with a psychiatrist recommended by his doctor, but waiting time was four months. We never learn how he found Ian. John’s problem, emerging in the fits and starts of an otherwise, one suspects, taciturn man, is that his wife Mari is appearing in the house weeks after she died in a particularly grisly car crash. The patient is so badly shaken, he’s moved into a B & B.

Lisa Dwan, Billy Carter

John and Mari barely communicated when she was alive. He had no idea she was out the night she died or where she was going. If they’d only communicated. If they’d only been able to have children. Is she now trying to punish her husband or to tell him something?

Ian is –surprise!- visited by Neasa (Lisa Dwan) the mother of his baby. Despite an argument, oblivious to exit statements, she expected him home days ago. Stuck in his brother’s house, life’s become ostracized hell. We learn some of Ian’s backstory, viable reasons for his feeling troubled. He will, he promises, be responsible.

Next we look in on the therapist one night when he’s picked up Laurence (James Russell) in a park. Homeless, in debt, and also a father, the man is reduced to selling himself in order to be able to go back to temporary digs. This is Ian’s awkward first time with a man. It doesn’t turn out as planned.


Billy Carter and James Russell; Billy Carter

Furniture is moved, cartons packed. Ian is once again moving. John returns for a last visit. Both his and Ian’s lives have radically changed. Or have they?

McPherson’s episodic piece is fatalistic. These are four characters without real homes, in search of connection, who “affiliate” but seem not to bond. Loneliness in a crowd. Less poignant than numb. Uncomfortably familiar. Even the building’s door buzzer never gets fixed.

Director Ciaran O’Reilly makes us feel like voyeurs. Even the playwright’s signature, fragmented dialogue arrives authentic. Each actor wears anxiety and disassociation a bit differently; the sum may make you squirm. Raised voices are never gratuitous. In fact, tensions often show themselves in small ways like John’s hand upon the couch arm, a single finger twitching or Laurence’s sudden, yet ambivalent move towards John. Ian’s unwitting smiles at some of what John tells him are priceless.

Billy Carter (Ian) is an onstage natural. The actor uses his character’s feelings to color every word and move or lack thereof rather than demonstrate them. He is here, palpably, a man shut off from himself as well as the world.

Matthew Broderick (John) begins a victim of our familiarity. It takes awhile to accept his pronounced Irish accent. Drawn sympathetically to the turbulence that drives him, however, we become as accustomed to it as we do to his self-flagellating guilt. Broderick is a master of hesitant, confused delivery. His everyman persona serves the role. John could be your friend, your neighbor.

An unnerving play.

Charlie Corcoran’s Set is appropriately utilitarian and minimal with details reflecting an old building.

The newly renovated Irish Repertory Theater is more comfortable, more accessible, and more spacious. A venerable and worthy institution begins another act like a phoenix rising from plaster and sawdust.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Matthew Broderick, Billy Carter

Shining City by Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through July 3, 2016