By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
NEW YORK – In April, as part of an Irish theater festival with several professional Philadelphia companies taking part, a curious little play called Dublin by Lamplight, with all the actors in clownface, opened in Center City in the large space at Broad Street Ministries.
Inis Nua Theatre, the company that staged it, put in lots of effort and re-opened the production Wednesday night Off-Broadway, at the suite of theaters called 59E59. Now, it's part of NewYork's first Irish theater festival. The setting by Meghan Jones has been scaled down to fit the New York space, and the six-member Philadelphia cast now includes two new actors.
To learn the stylized commedia dell’arte form of performance used in the play, artistic director Tom Reing studied with a theater company called the Corn Exchange, in Dublin, which developed the play about the founding of the National Theatre of Ireland, which everyone calls the Abbey. To give you an idea of the acting style in Dublin by Lamplight, the performers generally speak directly to the audience when they address other characters; when they react, though, they look directly at the characters.
The effect of the piece, which runs about 80 minutes with a 10-minute intermission, is charming: something like a puppet show but with people, or a real-actor show but with clowns, or a silent film but with words. The entire story – as much a tale of political rebellion as an accounting of the
beginnings of a theater that eventually became one of the great institutions of the English-speaking world – is set to the spunky music of John Lionarons. He performs it at a piano to the side of the action, as if he were in a movie house in the early ‘20s. At one point, Lionarons plays the piano and penny flute at the same time.
Dublin by Lamplight is a play within a play. Amid political intrigue that involves the National Theatre cast, we see some of the opening-night offering. This too is stylized in Michael West’s script, which
elides real-life characters from 1904 and imposes on them events that either happened over a number of years or not at all. In Dublin, I suppose, the play is both a celebration and a tease, making fun of an institution it clearly respects greatly.
In New York, it’s more a triumph of Reing’s directing and staging, as well as performance, than it is a commentary on anything. The excellent actors –Megan Bellwoar, Jered McLenigan, Jared Michael Delaney (he is Inis Nua’s associate artistic director), Michael Doherty, Mike Dees and Sarah
Van Auken – all play multiple roles.
Dublin by Lamplight is the first of several Philadelphia-area productions that opened here in regular seasons and move to Off-Broadway this season, and a nice initital go for the home team.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, email@example.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
Dublin by Lamplight:
Presented by Inis Nua Theatre at 59E59,59 E. 59th St., New York, through Oct. 2. Tickets: $35. Information: 212-279-4200 or www.59e59.org.