Brat Productions’ CRAIC Fringes the Irish Theatre Fest

There are some 400 million native English-language speakers in the world and about 6 million of them live on the island of Ireland, but the Emerald Isle seems to have produced much more than its share of great writers and playwrights. This season saw six companies collaborate in a Philadelphia Irish Theatre Festival featuring eight works of contemporary Irish theatre.

For one week only, BRAT Productions is getting in on the act with LAST CALL, a series of short Irish bar tales read one-a-day at Fergie’s Pub in Center City Philadelphia. Three of the four plays are works by Conor McPherson, perhaps the best new playwright to come from Ireland in recent decades. McPherson’s unique blend of supernatural intensity with real human interaction has brought international acclaim, with both the Telegraph (London) and the New York Times calling him “the finest dramatist of his generation” (of any nationality).

“I love his use of language,” says Madi Destefano, artistic co-director of Brat and director of two of the readings in the series. “Conor McPherson has taken the Irish tall tale form and made it resonate with contemporary audiences. His shaggy dog tall tales are full of urban debauchery and the narrators are confessing their innermost thoughts, things that they wouldn’t normally share.”

McPherson’s Dublin Carol was produced by Amaryllis Theatre as part of the Irish Theatre Festival, and recent years have seen numerous area production of his work, with The Weir (Curio Theatre) and Shining City (Theatre Exile) two of the best shows of Philly’s 2009/10 season. It was Brat Productions which helped introduce McPherson’s work to area audiences, presenting McPherson Festivals of his work in 2001 and 2002.

Several works from those festivals are being reprised in Brat’s LAST CALL. LIME STREET BOWER (see dates and times below) features Matt Pfeiffer as Frank, the elder brother of a character he played in the same play in 2001/02. Pfeiffer has since become recognized as one of the area’s best directors, so it’s great to see him returning to his fringey roots with a bar-stage reading.

The star of McPherson’s THE GOOD THIEF should be well-known to local audiences as a premiere performer of Irish theatre. William Zilienski performed in the recent Lieutenant of Inishmore, last season’s Shining City, and was stellar in McPherson’s The Seafarer (Arden Theatre, 2009). He received Brat’s first Barrymore nomination in 2002 for his role in RUM AND VODKA, a part performed in this year’s LAST CALL by Sean Lally.

Rounding out the CRAIC is the exhilarating HOWIE THE ROOKIE. “It’s very violent,” says Distefano, director of the piece. “There are two monologues which tell the same story from two different perspectives and it all starts over a mattress with scabies. . . . The language is very broken up and in the vernacular. It’s poetic like McPherson’s work but it’s it has a sort of beat to it.”

The recent Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts proved the value of a unifying marketing effort by arts organizations (although it’s focus on Paris 1910 to 1920 was a little peculiar, ignoring as it did the horrifying conflict of that decade—World War I—which killed almost 5 percent of the French population). In many ways, PIFA compared favorably with the Live Arts Festival, with the Kimmel Center’s sponsorship allowing it to reach almost all aspects of the city’s art world. But without the grungy plays in alternative theater spaces that the Philly Fringe brings to the Live Arts Festival, PIFA lacked the energy of the annual fest.

“It was really just being silly,” says Distefano. “We obviously haven’t really created a fringe festival around the Irish Theatre Festival, but a place like Fergie’s is right for these pieces. I like site-specific theater when it really lends itself to the piece. Even hearing the bar and the laughter and chinking up from downstairs is part of the whole atmosphere.” Irish theater indeed.

Published by Stage Magazine.
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LAST CALL: Brat’s Craic fringes the Irish Theatre Festival.
Fergie’s Pub
1214 Sansom Street,
Philadelphia, PA
Brat Productions
267.601.2231
www.bratproductions.org

HOWIE THE ROOKIE
by Mark O’Rowe
Directed by Madi Distefano
5/8- 5pm, 5/13- 3pm, 5/15- 5pm

THIS LIME TREE BOWER
by Conor Mcpherson
Directed by Madi Distefano
5/8-8pm, 5/9-6pm

RUM AND VODKA
by Conor McPherson
Directed by Lee Ann Etzold
5/10- 6pm, 5/16 -6pm

THE GOOD THIEF
by Conor McPherson
Directed by Candace O’Neil Cihocki
5/12- 6pm, 5/14- 5pm

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.