Galway’s Druid Theatre presented their acclaimed production of Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie at the Lincoln Theatre, New York on Tuesday. The play will run till the end of the month.
Since 2007, with the support of Culture Ireland, Druid has presented five shows in New York; and has spent a total of 22 weeks touring coast-to-coast in the US with 132 performances of Penelope by Enda Walsh, The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin Mc Donagh, and O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie.
Druid’s co-founder Garry Hynes, and director of The Silver Tassie, is widely respected in America, being the first woman to receive a coveted Tony Award on Broadway in 1998 for her production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
O'Casey's The Silver Tassie has been regarded as a notoriously difficult play to produce. Despite earning the Abbey Theatre a small fortune from his previous plays the Abbey rejected this play in 1928, leading to howls of protest from the author against WB Yeats and the other directors, and his exile to England.
The play was rejected for a number of reasons including Yeats criticism that O’Casey had not experienced World War I at first hand, and that he should write about what he knew.
The second scene of the play is dramatically set against the background of a mighty tank, which alarmingly roars into life and moves forward at the end of the scene. Soldiers are resting, including many of the characters we previously met celebrating a local football victory back in Dublin.
There is a constant thump thumping of big guns in the distance. Into this scene we hear a clear child’s voice (Lara Connaughton ), ‘Oh, bear it gently, carry it soft’ - and stretcher bearers enter with the wounded. All the men link on to each other in a long line of the blind leading the blind, reminiscent of a Stanley Spencer painting. The scene is totally successful.
‘God of the miracles’
There is a great deal of action and movement in the play; but in its third act O’Casey slows the pace down and brilliantly reminds us what his play is about. The two codgers Sylvester Heegan and Simon Norton (faultlessly played by Eamon Morrissey and John Olohan ) are in hospital. We have previously met Nurse Monican (Clare Dunne ) who, sanctimoniously warned the two men, in a a nasal Dublin accent, that hell and damnation awaited them for their wasted lives.
But now the war has changed everything. She is now the sister in charge of the ward, and has developed a Dublin 4 accent as she courts the hospital surgeon (Elliot Harper ). She leaves the ward every now and then for a quick snog in the bushes. Hilarious comedy erupts when the nurse insists that Heegan takes a bath, which he is reluctant to do. He makes all the excuses that he can think of to avoid washing himself, and eventually disappears into a room full of steam.
Into this scene Harry Heegan (Garrett Lombard ), the hero of the the Avondale Football Club, who on the day of departure to the front won the coveted ‘Silver Tassie’ cup for his team, pushes himself in a wheelchair.
He was wounded in the war and is now paralysed from the waist down. He is wretchedly miserable, and pines for a visit from his one time sweetheart Jessie Taite (Charlie Murphy ), who does not come. The wife beater Teddy Foran (Liam Carney ), who has been blinded, is led in by his now triumphant wife (Marion O’Dwyer ). “ I just brought Teddy up to see you,” she says.
Harry Heegan tells the surgeon that he feels a buzz in his paralysed leg. The surgeon reassures him, unconvincingly, that the operation in the morning will be a success. The Mother Superior of the hospital visits him, and wishes him well in the morning. Poor Harry sinks back on his bed and cries: “God of the miracles; give a poor devil a chance.” It is a magnificent scene in which O’Casey perfectly balances comedy and pathos, to underline his cry of the wastefulness of war, and the suffering of the wounded who society in the end, forgets and leaves behind.
Outstanding contributions to this very fine production include Elliot Davis, for his original music and the wonderful and innovative sets from Francis O’Connor.
Following the opening night performance the cast were entertained at the residence of the Consul-General of Ireland, Noel Kilkenny, and Eugene Downes, CEO of Culture Ireland.