Traditional music and instruments, singing, storytelling and a little dancing were the components of I Am of Ireland. I really enjoy that the dialogue is taken from the text of the book. This means all the characters say the story’s text while they portray the characters. All seven of the actors assume multiple parts and play multiple instruments.
One musical highlight was a rhythm song played only on three bodrám and led by Edd Key, musical director. It was mouth music and rhythm. Mouth music is the predecessor of scat with nonsense sounds and word sound alikes; it was often employed when instruments were too expensive or not available. All the actors played instruments: violin, tin whistle, guitar, bodrán (Irish drum), mandolin and clackers (two bones or wooden sticks held together to softly promote the rhythm.
As far as the story telling went, short stories by Irish writers were used.
My favorite featuring Suzy Hunt, a veteran character actor, took my breath away as the story progressed, “She Went by Gently” by Paul Vincent Carrol. Maura’s a midwife called out in the early morning to help deliver of a young, unmarried woman’s child. Abandoned by her lover, she bears the hateful condemnation of the old crones, but also she has love and comfort from Maura.
There were three other short stories, “The Drunkard” by Frank O’Connor, “The Burial” and “The Living” by Mary Lavin.
In “The Drunkard”, a 9 year-old boy Larry (Kayla Walker) whose father (David Anthony Lewis) abstains from drink for a few weeks or a month, and totals up the mythical money he’s saves by not drinking. His mother (Allison Standley) has a cleaning job in the village so she gives the boy a mission, to bring his Dad back sober from the wake, which is normally followed by hours in the pub. Larry anxiously follows his Dad to the pub, trying to think of a technique to get his father home sober. His gentle exhortations are not working. Normally, his father has the first pint pulled and puts it aside while he talks with the other drinkers.
Larry finally wonders what’s the big deal with alcohol? So he reaches up to the bar and takes a sip of his dad’s pint. He hates it. He takes another sip and decides it may be alright, and after another sip, he decides it’s lovely! When his father turns to get his pint, the glass is empty! He accuses the other customers but they point to Larry, drunk on the floor. Dad takes Larry home, who’s singing, giggling and throwing up, humiliating Dad as all the wives come to their doors to be regaled with the spectacle. When mom gets home she goes in to the still throwing up boy sick on his bed; she strokes him and tells him how wonderful he is to get his Dad home. If you’ve read Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes”, you’ll be familiar with the consequences on the family if the only support is a drunk.
“The Living” features two schoolboys, Dougald (Brian Gunter) and his friend Mickser (Joey Shaw) perched on the stone schoolyard walls to watch the cars coming back from the football match. They want to wait until later when the drunks come home and there’ll be weaving, swerving, and sometimes an accident. They start talking about corpses; Mickser says he’s seen three or four but Dougald hasn’t seen any. If kids come to the house before the other mourners arrive, Mickser says they can see the corpse. Dougald knows of a man who’s died. They set off for the home of the woman (Suzy Hunt) who controls the road crossing barriers at the train tracks because her impaired son (David Anthony Lewis) has just died. Mickster backs out despite all his boasting but Dougald gets invited in and is soon looking for a way out. The mother grieves the fact that not one child had come to visit her son while he lived. But he did get to see the corpse. After Dougald leaves, Mickser goes home and Dougald rushes back to the school house wall to watch the drunks.
Adapter and director Stephanie Shine first presented her production at Book-It in 1994. This remounting celebrates the 25th celebration of Book-It’s life. May she live forever.
Go see “I Am of Ireland” at the Center Theater in the Armory (formerly the Center House) in Seattle Center. It runs through October 12; for tickets and information, go to Book-It Repertory, or call the Box Office at 206.216.0833. Open Tuesday-Friday 12:00 – 5:00pm (Wed-Sat during the run of show).