Tag Archives: Galway

Three Nights, Three Theaters, Three Plays

PlaysThis week, I attended three plays in Galway, three nights in a row. The marathon of shows was part of the Galway International Arts Festival. I do not attend plays regularly, and seeing three in a row was a unique experience for me. I barely had a moment to process the last show before sitting down for the next one, until today when I paused to contemplate them separately.  At the end of each performance, the venues sold copies of the scripts, and I decided they would make good souvenirs from a city embedded in art, music, and theater.

The first show, at An Taibhdearc, was a trio of three short plays by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. The plays were Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby. They were performed in total darkness; even the exit lights were turned off. The first is a monologue spoken so quick that much of it is lost. The only light is shown on the actress’s mouth, so that all the audience can see is a disembodied mouth babbling intensely. The second portrays a daughter pacing as her mother passes away. They speak to one another as the actress (providing the voice for both characters) walks slowly like a clock, from left to right. The last, and perhaps most disturbing, shows an elderly woman in a rocking chair. She is motionless; the chair is not. The chair rocks her face into and out of a pale beam of light as she reflects morosely on her last days and lonely life. Each play is darker than the last, more disturbing, unsettling, and saddening. Evidently, Samuel Beckett does with plays what Stephen King does with novels.

The second was a new play by Christian O’Reilly, entitled Chapatti, at Town Hall Theater. Costarring American actor John Mahoney, it was a cheerful romantic comedy about a dog-owner and a cat-owner. For all its cute jokes and warm humor, it touches on several serious issues: terminal illness, dissatisfaction in marriage, suicide, and the poor way men treat women. The author places two lonely, elderly characters close together and draws them closer, but each time the plot delves into the complexities of the characters’ pasts, the plot veers in another, more lighthearted direction.  There are many instances when the author brushes aside these disconcerting issues, but the humor is well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable, especially after three live nightmares courtesy of Samuel Beckett.

The third play was another new show, Be Infants in Evil by Brian Martin, performed at the Mick Lally Theater, or Druid Theater. This play remains my favorite of the three. The audience walks into a room filled with incense and a Catholic Priest kneels and prays on stage. The author focuses on what first seems like too many issues to balance in a one-act play. The priest hides numerous secrets, a young woman and long-time friend has converted to Islam to marry a wealthy man, an elderly blind woman is beginning to catch on to the priest’s secrets, and a thirteen-year-old boy from the priest’s past has just shown up. The play juggles science and religion, child abuse scandals, abortion, forgiveness, guilt, and revelation, and ties them together by slowly binding the characters into concentric rings of conflict and secrecy. There is humor where there shouldn’t be, and love for characters who should not be loved.

I have often thought that the two primary centers of culture in the U.S. are Hollywood and Broadway, and while I love films, I find myself daydreaming about attending a new play on Broadway, but I have never once dreamed of going to Hollywood. I regret that I do not go to plays more often, and that I do not participate in theater more. Flagstaff has what I believe to be a rich but precarious theatrical culture. When I return, I hope to participate in that culture. Theater is far more intimate than cinema. The silences are more unsettling, and the noise is more overwhelming. The audience becomes a part of the show, and there is always the possibility that the players will improvise, develop a set of inside jokes with the audience, and wait outside to meet the fans. These three plays were written, staged, and performed brilliantly. Each was different from the last, and it’s thrilling to see the house lights dim and see the first characters step on stage to deliver the opening lines. It’s a thrill I hope to feel more often.

-jk

A Brief Note About Galway

Corrib River

On the furthest western edge of Europe, on the western coast of Ireland, is a city called Galway. The River Corrib flows through the city into the Atlantic, and Galway is crisscrossed with bridges and waterways. Although it seems to be far-removed from most of European activity, an isolated region of an isolated country, Galway is exceptionally cosmopolitan, with roots as a trading network and a social junction during the seventeenth century. Galway merchants sailed to Italy with Irish wool, and returned with goods from the Mediterranean, including fine wines and art. Maritime commerce was, and still is, a central part of life here.

Galway

Today, it reminds me of my hometown, Flagstaff. The National University of Ireland, Galway, brings in new students and faculty, and with them ideas, to the city. There is a flourishing art scene here, which includes the Galway Film Fleadh, the Arts Festival, and a farmer’s market every Saturday. But more like Flagstaff, it is a point between destinations. Flagstaff is on Route 66 and in addition sees about a hundred trains pass through each day, it is a stopping point for many people; similarly, Galway is a coastal trading city where travelers, ideas, cuisine, and cultures converge. Both cities are driven by university life and academic patronage, whose dispensation is evident in artistic displays, festivals, and even graffiti. In fact, I have seen more graffiti in Galway than my own town. Graffiti

Medium-sized, quirky communities can be found anywhere, I think. They act like cities and small towns at the same time. They are twilight cities on the edge of the new and the old. For a writer, these are the best places, because they tend to be the strangest, in my experience. Places like Boulder, Missoula, Flagstaff, and even Galway on the edge of the Atlantic, are in my opinion the most authentic, appealing communities in the world.

-jk

To Whom It May Concern

Yesterday, while wandering the streets of Galway around the river, I found myself in front of a Catholic church built in the 1800s. I stepped inside, eager to explore a tradition with which I was unfamiliar. I had been in Catholic churches before, but only on guided tours with a camera in my hands and a ball cap on my head. This was different. This was an opportunity to find a new experience.

Church

I was alone inside the old church, and the silence was overwhelming in a city that otherwise was suffocated by the noise of traffic, crowds, and the river. I walked past a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, turned toward an organ, and made my way up the church to the front pew. There, I sat down in silence and looked around the bright room, engulfed in its old and magnificent imagery. The silence was almost alarming, as I had hardly a moment of solitude since my arrival in Ireland. I worried that somebody might come in and tell me I was in the wrong place, or ask me how I got past the Swiss Guard. After a while, though, I closed my eyes and listened to nothing, and managed to stop thinking for a few soft moments.

After a while, I opened my eyes, took out my notebook, and wrote a simple, one-page poem. I wrote it slowly, deliberately, one word at a time. I rarely take such care when writing. It was a brief poem entitled “To Whom It May Concern.” I tore it from my notebook, rose quietly from my seat, and placed it on the altar. After that, I left quickly, afraid that I would be caught.

I do not remember the contents of the poem. After I left it on the altar, it no longer belonged to me. It was a gift to the first person to find it. All I remember about it is that I felt satisfied when I finished it, that it was about light, that it ended with the line “Dona Nobis Pacem,” and I signed it “jk.” Perhaps they will think I was joking, or maybe it’ll be thrown away, or maybe it will be read aloud at Sunday Mass by a curious priest. For me, it was out of the ordinary, but I felt peaceful when I placed the paper on the sunlit altar. I’ll never know what happened to that little poem; all I know is that it set sail for uncharted territory just as I did two weeks ago.

-jk