Monday, March 17, 2008

A spot of Irish drama

When's the last time you read a play? School assignment maybe? I think drama is a sadly neglected genre when it comes to daily reading, which is odd given our crazy time-strapped lifestyles. I'm a huge theatre buff and lucky enough to live in a city that constantly offers a wide variety of challenging and talented productions, but I also have two bookcases devoted entirely to plays, theatre memoirs and drama criticism. And on those nights when I don't have a lot of time but want to read something "complete", there's nothing better than turning to a play. If well written, you'll have a fully realized, engaging story- all in two hours or so.

Some of my favourite playwrights are Irish - the beauty of their language, their wit, and the engagement with their fractious, violent and sometimes heartbreaking history - all ensure a terrific read. So in honour of St. Patrick's Day, here are a couple of recommendations of wonderful Irish plays, if James Joyce's Ulysses isn't really your mug of Guinness.
For some historical perspective, you can dip into the canon of early twentieth century Irish Drama - Yeats, J.M. Synge, and the wonderful Sean O'Casey (Juno & the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars are his best known, but for my money, The Silver Tassie is my favourite and one of the most electric plays ever written about WWI - another of my obsessions).
Or you can sample more contemporary playwrights like Brian Friel whose Dancing at Lughnasa, I dare you to read without crying. This story of five sisters trying to deal with the industrialization of rural Ireland (among other challenges) is so beautifully written. I also love Friel's Translations that explores Ireland's fraught history with colonialism, and Freedom of the City, set during the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. Then there is Frank McGuinness, whose play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme also poignantly deals with WWI. Tom Murphy explores family dynamics and violence in Whistle in the Dark. And Martin McDonagh writes about a mother-daughter relationship that will have you squirming uncomfortably in The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Also give Marina Carr (her By the Bog of Cats is a fascinating retelling of the Medea story) and Anne Devlin a try (particularly for a look at contempory Irish women's lives - Devlin's play Ourselves Alone would make a good pairing with Dancing at Lughnasa).
As for me, tonight I'm off to see one of the most famous Irish plays of all. More info here.

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