Jim Ivers is the latest Toronto Irishman to take on Martin McDonagh's amazingly scathing and hilarious dark wit.
THE LONESOME WEST, the last play in McDonagh's Connemara trilogy, is among his more famous works and it opens tonight as part of the Toronto Irish Players season. Below, Ivers talks shop about what its like to be immersed in the comedy and tragedy that is Martin McDonagh.
1. Tell us about the play and why you chose to direct it.
THE LONESOME WEST is a black comedy. It is the third play in a trilogy about fictional characters in Leenane, which is a real place located in the West of Ireland. Together with THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE and A SKULL IN CONNEMARA these plays offer a dark satire on the institutions of family, state and church in Ireland. The traditional domestic settings suggest the familiarity of the pastoral play about the virtues of Irish peasantry, but these expectations are subverted by depictions of sadism, venality and murder. I have long admired Martin McDonagh's plays and films and THE LONESOME WEST is a particular favourite. I suppose the fraternal warfare between the two brothers always reminded me of the sibling rivalry of my own two sons, although I hasten to add that their shenanigans pale in insignificance measured against the Connor brothers!
2. Martin McDonagh is among the better known Irish playwrights, what is it about his plays that make them so popular?
McDonagh's popularity is rooted in his subversive black comedy. The kind of humour in his plays is the kind where you find yourself laughing out loud and almost immediately feel guilty. There is an example of this in the play where Coleman and Valene laugh at the revelation that Father Welsh's first name is Roderick and then realise this is in poor taste and simultaneously pull serious faces. He also happens to be a highly accomplished writer who believes you should leave the theatre with your head buzzing, as if you had been to a rock concert.
3. What do you hope people take away from the show?
It is a blackly comic extravaganza but I often felt that the productions I have seen failed to illuminate the tragic undertones of the play. I hope we have managed to achieve that while maintaining the comedy at the same time.
4. Have you directed a McDonagh play before? How do you feel about getting into the dark and dirty places his dramas often go?
I have not directed one of McDonagh's plays before but I did my Masters dissertation on the influence of gothic cinema on his plays. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE is the film which influences THE LONESOME WEST. I have directed Tracy Letts's KILLER JOE which is the play which McDonagh credits with putting him on the road to his current style. I feel very comfortable with this type of black humour and really enjoy working in the genre.
5. Can you tell us something about this production that we may not know?
When the play was originally written there were only three characters and Druid Theatre's Garry Hynes influenced the additional character in the final script. The play is set in 1993 and eagle-eyed soccer fans may notice the reference to Ireland's World Cup match against Holland which actually took place in 1994!
6. What's coming down the pipe for the Toronto Irish Players?
A reading group is drawing up a shortlist for the upcoming season. Plays with multiple female roles are currently popular.
The Toronto Irish Players present THE LONESOME WEST, playing Feb. 23-26, March 1-4, 8-10, @ the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St.) For tickets click here or call 416-440-2888.
Cliona Kenny, director of SHINING CITY, the latest production by the Toronto Irish Players (T.I.P.) discusses Irish drama, ghosts, and the discomfort of change.
Q: In 50 words or less (approx), can you sum up what you believe the play is about?
A: The play centres around a man who has seen the ghost of his dead wife. Terrified and shaken he consults a therapist for help. As the stories of these two men unfold it is uncanny how they each mirror the other’s experience of love, commitment, sexuality, loss, and meaning. It is a ghost story, a love story, a coming out story; in short, a very amusing and poignant play about modern life.
Q. Directing a play is a tremendous amount of work, so I'm always curious to know: Why this play? Why now?
A: I love this play because it deals with change, and the havoc that change can cause in our lives. Some change is from within and some is imposed from without. Ireland has undergone huge changes in the past 20 years, so there is a great amount of re-adjustment going on. The characters in Shining City are re-adjusting to these changes. I think it speaks to me personally as I change and grow older and have to let go of some roles that no longer serve. Nobody really likes the discomfort of change!
Q: You've been involved in the T.I.P. for years, why do you think it's important to have Irish plays produced in Toronto?
A; The Irish love a good story and many people throughout the world have Irish roots. Going to a play is a very felt experience. You feel like you are “in” the play. So you can actually have the experience of what it means to be Irish: whatever that means to you. I like to think that as a race both in Ireland and throughout the world we can be defined by more than Saint Patricks Day.
Q: How does Irish theatre differ from theatre in other parts of the world? Is there anything about an Irish play that makes it distinctly Irish? (other than the setting of course).
A: I don’t think I have ever seen an Irish play where I didn’t laugh. Even the saddest, most heartbreaking scenarios are always balanced by the absurdity of life. No subject is too serious that the Irish can’t find the funny side. Shining City is no exception.
Q: What obstacles did you encounter while directing this play?
It is an unusual play for actors. The style of the writing is very un -prose like, much the way people often speak in Dublin. Conversation or dialogue is often not a direct way to meaning. For example they rarely answer any question directly. It’s ironic too because Sigmund Freud maintained that the Irish were impossible to analyze.
SHINING CITY plays at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St.) from Nov. 3 - 19. Buy your tickets online here or by phone 416-440-2888 or in person at the theatre.