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'DruidMurphy' brings Irish playwright Tom Murphy to New York

July 10, 2012|By Chris Barton
  • The cast of "Famine," which is part three of the "DruidMurphy" cycle by Tom Murphy.
The cast of "Famine," which is part three of the "DruidMurphy"… (Stephanie Berger, Associated…)

This just in: The Irish really know their way around telling a story.

Yet despite America's eagerness to embrace Irish culture for one Guinness-addled day every March, few are familiar with many of the island's titans of the written word beyond an ambitiously purchased copy of "Ulysses," a tear-stained "Angela's Ashes" or perhaps stumbling through the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" during the holidays.

Consider celebrated Irish playwright Tom Murphy, whose name falls below the radar in mainstream American pop culture. A curated trio of his plays at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York could help change all that.

Presented by the Galway-based Druid Theatre Company, the compactly named "DruidMurphy" earned raves from Charles Isherwood in the New York Times this week for staging a cycle that includes Murphy's debut play "Whistle in the Dark" (1961), "Famine" (1968) and "Conversations on a Homecoming" (1985).

Concerning the intersections between faith, history, hope and despair that run somewhat consistently through the Irish experience, the three plays can be taken in separately or as a whopping nine-hour marathon this weekend. The most recent play, "Coversations on a Homecoming," leads the run and is considered by Isherwood as perhaps the most affecting in telling the story of a group of friends gathering to meet one of their own who immigrated to the U.S.

"A Whistle in the Dark" is described as more of a bleak family drama, while "Famine" apparently doesn't fare as well as the scene shifts to the famine-plagued Ireland of the 1840s, right down to a harder-to-grasp use of language. But overall "DruidMurphy" is considered a riveting success marked by performances that are tough to shake.

"In these plays life is presented as a constant battle against inner demons and the outer forces of an indifferent world and an absent God," Isherwood writes. It may not be as immediately approachable as green beer, but it's surely far more rewarding.

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