Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Review: Dublin by Lamplight

Philadelphia's Inis Nua Theatre takes a production it staged last spring to New York. From Off-Broadway, Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: Dublin by Lamplight

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Jered McLenigan as Willy, Sarah Van Auken as Maggie and Mike Dees as Martyn in Inis Nua Theatre's Dublin by Lamplight by Michael West.

By Howard Shapiro

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,, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,

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


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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