With this issue of Breac we hope to foster conversations around very contemporary productions and issues in Irish drama. Not only are the plays and performances under discussion extremely current, but the methodological and historical approaches are equally immediate and relevant. Through this focus on recent drama we hope that these essays will stimulate debate and lively conversations around the role of the theater in staging issues such as economic crisis, urban renewal, gender relations, sexual abuse, and other matters that are vital to contemporary considerations in Irish Studies.
One of the major developments in the Irish theater in the current decade has been the rise in site-specific performances which amplify the always-present challenges of addressing plays in performance. It is our hope that a cluster of the contributions will provide resources for those who don’t enjoy the proximity (or in some cases the quick ticket-picking skills) to have witnessed developments in this arena first-hand, as well as a prompt for those who did see them to engage one another through the comments. Veronica Dyas and Sorcha Kenny guide a walking tour through Dublin with a host of collaborators in “Am I Rambling?” provided here as a video essay giving a taste of new talent and unlikely theatrical sites in the city. Brian Singleton helpfully locates the work of ANU Productions, the most visible of the current crop of site-specific companies, within global and Irish theatrical history as he takes up their Monto Cycle in “Politicizing Performance: ANU Productions and Site-Specific Theater.” In her insightful essay “Theatre-as-Memory and as Witness: Active Spectatorship in The Walworth Farce, The Blue Boy, and Laundry,” Emilie Pine looks at the spectatorship available in a “straight” play, a devised dance/performance piece, and one of ANU’s site-specific dramas, all dealing with memory and trauma. Taken together, these three pieces invite us to engage with the newest and most exciting developments in Irish drama without losing sight of their position within a greater body of world theatrical practices and topics important to Irish culture.
A second group of essays explores connections to place in both form and content. In a micro-level study of economic upheaval, Niamh Malone uses Dermot Bolger’s Ballymun Trilogy to examine the relationship between urban regeneration—a process spurred on by globalization—and cultural production and community participation. In a more extended contribution, Anna McMullan and Trish McTighe explore how the national and global reach of the Gate Theatre’s major Beckett events shaped performance opportunities for independent theaters in Ireland. Combining historical and economic context with broader formal concerns, Susan Canon Harris’s in-depth examination of Conor McPherson’s “supernaturalism” takes up the relationship between his approach to gender and his troubling of the edges of realism with particular attention to his post-Economic Collapse realization that he is an Irish Writer.
A final group of contributions shows some of the portability and iterative potential of “traditional” or Irish-coded cultural material in contemporary theater. In “Marina Carr’s Swans and Goddesses: Contemporary Feminist Myth in Irish Drama,” Jenna Lourenco follows some of the international folkloric significance of the swan through the present of The Mai and By the Bog of Cats. Elisa Serra Portiero provides a valuable translation study in considering the uses of transplanted national identities in her “Taming Irishness: Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara on the Galician Stage.” The continued capacity for Irish mythological material to meet with stylistic reinvention is demonstrated in a short video from the Irish-language theater company Fíbín, touching on their use of contemporary performance techniques (including spectacular puppetry) and their production of Paul Mercier’s Sétanta. The video is accompanied by a pithy introduction from Brian Ó Conchubhair situating the company within a twentieth-century history of Irish-language theater. Finally, in a lively and acute interview, Paige Reynolds draws out Colm Tóibín on a rich variety of topics relating to his work in the theater, touching not only on the specific challenges a successful novelist finds in developing a text for the stage, but on the treatment of Irish theatrical history as the mythic material of Beauty in a Broken Place or the reimagining of Mary, the Mother of Jesus telling her story of loss in Testament.
We hope that you will find your own connections among these essays, and that you will engage one another in the comments. Along with the capability for different varieties of content, the possibility for ongoing dialogue is a key virtue of this project. We invite you to join in.