Corrections or additions?

This article by David McDonough was prepared for the September 12,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Emerald Isle in Drama, Music, & Song

According to the latest census figures, more than

935,000

people in New Jersey identify themselves as Irish, making this the

second largest ethnic group in the state. A theatrical production

being launched in Trenton, and an Irish music series at the State

Theater in New Brunswick, literally reflect the state’s growing

interest

in Celtic culture.

The Irish American Theater Company (IATC) brings its production of

"The Hunger Grass" to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton

on Saturday, September 15, for performances at 3 and 8 p.m. The

two-act

drama, written and directed by award-winning playwright Deirdre

McNamara,

concerns the impact of the Irish Famine on one family and on

contemporary

Ireland. The show is sponsored by the museum and by the area division

of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

In an interview from New York, McNamara say her involvement in this

project came about by accident. "Tom Henry (the founder of the

IATC), had planned an evening of Irish ghost stories and his author

bailed on him. He had just done a tribute to my late husband, Dermot

McNamara, co-founder of the Irish Players, and he asked me to come

through," she says.

"It was the sesquicentennial of the Great Famine, so I based three

stories on that famine and how it had impacted the history of

Ireland."

Over one million people died in the Irish famine of the late 1840s,

and another million migrated to North America, never to return.

One of McNamara’s stories, "The Hunger Grass," is set in the

time of the famine. McNamara says it was inspired by a painting given

to her by Father Dan Cullen of Tenafly, of the Society of African

Missionaries. When the Hibernians approached the playwright about

a full-length play for Trenton, she says she agreed that the subject

deserves two acts.

She set part of the play in contemporary Ireland and part of it during

the historic time of the famine that altered the course of so many

lives. "The subtext, which I have come to realize by watching

rehearsals, is a kind of war between the old Ireland — the real,

European Ireland — and how the `Celtic Tiger’ (the nickname for

the high-tech economic boom in modern Ireland) is trying to move away

from old Ireland. I think the hope for Ireland is in American Ireland

for the survival of Irish culture per se."

"Ireland has lost a writer, actress and director of note,"

lamented an editorial in Ireland’s leading national paper, the Irish

Independent, when McNamara returned to work in New York some years

ago. She was nominated by Dominic Riordain as "one of Ireland’s

outstanding young poets."

In 1972, with her husband, Deirdre McNamara established the world’s

first theatrical celebration of Bloomsday at the White Horse Inn,

brought Joyce to the stage of Symphony Space Theater, and inspired

Bloomsday Festivals around the world.

McNamara joined the Irish American Theatre Company after its

production

of her one-act play, "The Waiting Room." She is also the

author

of a book on homeopathy to be published in Italy this fall.

Five New Jersey-based actors head the cast of "The Hunger

Grass,"

including seasoned Broadway actor Sam Adams, Thomas Kimmins, Scotty

Servis, Derek Straat, and Patricia McNamara.

"We have extraordinary performers from many different states,

and our New Jersey cast is more than holding its own," enthuses

McNamara. "Performing in their state capital is very special to

them, and I hope their home state audiences give them a great

reception."

Even today in Ireland, you’ll hear people talk about the Great Hunger

as if it were yesterday. And it remains an emotional subject.

"The Famine isn’t just talk about numbers, it is about

people,"

says McNamara. "Each individual suffered to an unimaginable

degree.

Non-Irish have said they didn’t understand the famine before. It’s

the playwright’s job to touch humanity."

The State Theatre will hit a somewhat less somber note

with its new Irish Series — four celebrations of Irish music and

dance that are offered during the 2001-20002 season. The international

hit Gaelforce Dance will give two performances, October 6, at 3 and

8 p.m.. With dance, light, sound, and music, the company tells the

story of two lovers torn apart by family jealousies and ultimate

tragedies.

In the tradition of Riverdance, and using traditional Irish music

fused with jazz, percussion, and newly-composed songs, the show has

been a sensation around the world since its inception in 1997.

The Chieftains, the world’s most famous Celtic traditional music group

that has been together for 30 years, return to the State on March

8. They’ve played all over the world (including Irish jigs in China)

and guest artists on their albums have ranged from Mick Jagger to

Tom Jones. An evening spent with the Chieftains is like sitting in

on the greatest pub session in the world. And maybe Paddy Maloney,

the Chieftains piper, will play something from the symphony he has

been composing for years, a piece that commemorates the Great Famine.

Ronan Tynan, best known of the original three Irish Tenors, goes solo

for his April 5 concert. Tynan, who has struggled with serious illness

throughout his life, has been one of Ireland’s leading singers since

he won the BBC/RTE Go For It talent search in 1994. In 1998 he formed

the three Irish tenors. Their concert tours, CDs, and videos have

won millions of fans in America and the British Isles. Performing

standards like "Danny Boy" and "The Lass of Aughrim",

Tynan may be the most popular singer to come out of Ireland in this

century. John McDermott, another of Ireland’s celebrated tenors,

offers

his "Remembrance Tour" on November 10.

Concert goers at a Cherish the Ladies show tend to blink twice after

the show, when they realize that the six women standing in the lobby

shaking hands with everyone are the same incredible musicians who

just dazzled them with their unbelievable musicianship.

Appearances by Cherish the Ladies have become a staple at the State

Theatre. This season’s show takes place April 26, and features as

an opening act Celtic fiddle virtuoso Doug Cameron. Founded in 1983

by musicologist Mick Molonoy, all the "ladies" of Cherish

learned their music at their father’s knees. Their latest album,

"The

Girls Won’t Leave The Boys Alone!" features all six of their

fathers,

as well as friends. The legendary Irish singer Liam Clancy calls the

group "incredible instrumentalists… and ebullient, lovable and

dynamic troupe." And you haven’t lived until you have seen the

group’s leader, the extraordinary flute and whistle player, Joannie

Madden, do her dead-on impression of Michael Flatley.

Whether you trace your family roots to Ireland or you just feel Irish,

the Garden State should keep you on your toes this season.

— David McDonough

The Hunger Grass , New Jersey State Museum Auditorium,

205 West State Street, Trenton, 609-586-9696.$18.51 for adults, $10

seniors & children. Tickets at the Cross and the Shamrock, Clover

Mall. Saturday, September 15, at 3 and 8 p.m.

State Theatre , 15 Livingston Street, New Brunswick. For

ticket and reservation information for the Irish Series, call toll

free: 877-782-8311. On the Web at www.StateTheatreNJ.org.


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