MAN_IN_THE_MOON_01I arrived at the Times Square Arts Center to see Waiting For Ikea at seven Wednesday night.  Owing to a scheduling glitch, it would be Man in the Moon at seven and Waiting For Ikea at nine.

“I hope you’ll stay for both” offered a confident man with a charming brogue and a soft swagger.  He promised I’d be in for “A fine evening of Irish theater!”   He was right.  He was also Tony Devlin, the director of the first show, Man in the Moon.

These are just two of the fifteen presentations splashing up in New York this month–all part of the All Irish Theatre Festival running through Sunday.  These are new plays from today’s Irish playwrights and populated with Irish actors.  The authentic accents can make some of the lines elusive till your ear adjusts.

There’s not much to say about Man in the Moon except, get a ticket if you can.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  Ciaran Nolan plays Sean Doran, a native son of Belfast, who is often talking about the preponderance of suicide among his peers, but is somehow actually talking about the whole of life’s experience and, oddly enough, making you laugh out loud into the bargain.  It is all Nolan for 90 minutes; his range– from  sweet Lothario, to a drunken fool at the wrong wake, to the brokenhearted lad burying his baby brother–is stunning and disarming.  Don’t get me started on his physical gifts.  A self-described ‘handsome bastard,’ he is credible whether humping imaginary nuns or playing the pub’s room-clearing eccentric.  He is so huge on stage, I was shocked to see him in the interval at mere human, even diminutive, scale.

The Irish love to talk almost as much as they like to write.  This show is the perfect co-mingling of writer Pearse Elliott’s economic expression of joy and loss, passion and pain on the page and Nolan’s exuberant flights and heart-stopping slams.  I don’t remember the last time I sat in a theater and had to remind myself to breathe.

Director Tony Devlin had a great deal to work with, to be sure.  Still, to draw out so much from a single actor on a black set–dazzling.

After the curtain calls, Nolan headed for friends in the lobby, and the two young actresses starring in the nine o’clock show, Waiting for Ikea, flew up the center aisle and all but dived backstage to begin setting up the show to follow.

I worried for them, thinking they had a really tough act to follow.  No worries.   Waiting for Ikea is something completely different.  First off, no one dies–or humps nuns.  This is a quintessential woman’s tale.

Chrissie Ryan (Laoisa Sexton) and Jade Green (Georgina McKevitt) bond as only young girls do.  They discover boys and menstruation together, take pregnancy tests together, evaluate the relative length and worth of partners’ penises.  They’re close.

The actresses offer us, by turns, tender and spiteful girls, then gentle and raging women.  One scene showcases women trapped, or nearly so, by their early life decisions.  The next throws us back to when they practiced dance moves and giggled a lot.  They are totally genuine as the women they became and the girls they were.

This is a love story you should see. One assumes director Alan King has daughters! He’s able to tease out the complicated intensity between Chrissie and Jade, to show it to us without telling us about it.  Again the set is rudimentary but clever in its way.  The piece is written by one of the actors, Georgina McKevitt, with Jacinta Sheerin.  The dialogue (and the whole thing is dialogue ) between the two–Chrissie and Jade–never flags, and there’s not a false note.  The idiom in this one is kneeslapping.  Producers provide a kind of “cheat sheet”, a glossary of terms to ameliorate any transatlantic confusion.  I was glad to know what a “Whore’s Melt” was.  But, I’ll leave you to discover that for yourself.

Origin’s 1st Irish Festival

Waiting for Ikea  – by Georgina McKevitt & Jacinta Sheerin; directed by Alan King

WITH: Laoisa Sexton (Chrissie Ryan), Georgina McKevitt (Jade Green), Emmet Kirwan (DJ Ringo VO).  Carol A. Sullivan is the stage manager, David Gillespie handles sound and Derek Van Heel lighting.  Origin’s 1st Irish Festival: At the Times Square Arts Center, 300 West 43rd Street (8th x 9th) through Sunday.   Running time 1 hour 30 minutes

Man in the Moon  –  by Pearse Elliott; directed by Tony Devlin.

WITH: Ciaran Nolan (Sean Doran).  Mick Draine stage manages assisted by Eamonn McNally.  Debra Hill does costumes.  Ciaran Bagnall handles set and lights and Justin Yang the sound.  Origin’s 1st Irish Festival: At the Times Square Arts Center, 300 West 43rd Street (8th x 9th) through Sunday. Running time 1 hour.