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The Irish Play on the New York Stage, 1874-1966

The Irish Play on the New York Stage, 1874-1966

John P. Harrington
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Irish Play on the New York Stage, 1874-1966
    Book Description:

    Over the years American -- especially New York -- audiences have evolved a consistent set of expectations for the "Irish play." Traditionally the term implied a specific subject matter, invariably rural and Catholic, and embodied a reductive notion of Irish drama and society. This view continues to influence the types of Irish drama produced in the United States today. By examining seven different opening nights in New York theaters over the course of the last century, John Harrington considers the reception of Irish drama on the American stage and explores the complex interplay between drama and audience expectations. All of these productions provoked some form of public disagreement when they were first staged in New York, ranging from the confrontation between Shaw and the Society for the Suppression of Vice to the intellectual outcry provoked by billing Waiting for Godot as "the laugh sensation of two continents." The inaugural volume in the series Irish Literature, History, and Culture, The Irish Play on the New York Stage explores the New York premieres of The Shaughraun (1874), Mrs. Warren's Profession (1905), The Playboy of the Western World (1911), Exiles (1925), Within the Gates (1934), Waiting for Godot (1956), and Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1966).

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4957-8
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the lovely “Metalogue to the Magic Flute,” written for the bicentenary of Mozart’s birth in 1956, W.H. Auden celebrates the tribulations and triumphs of performing arts. He attributes a large part of the kind of appreciation accorded an artist to shifting expectations:

    Each age has its own mode of listening.

    We know theMozartof our fathers’ time

    Was gay, rococo, sweet, but not sublime,

    A Viennese Italian; that is changed

    Since music critics learned to feel ‘estranged’.

    Auden also counts the fashions of an age for many of the tribulations put upon a work of art, and in...

  4. 1 Dion Boucicault, the Irish Play, and the Politics of Reconciliation
    (pp. 9-33)

    In 1972, on March 17, or St. Patrick’s Day, theTimes Literary Supplementpublished a special Irish issue, with contributions from Thomas Kilroy, Maire Cruise O’Brien, John Montague, Liam Miller, and others. Though all the essays and unsigned reviews did not advert to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, the occasion for the issue plainly was the worsening situation there. Denis Donoghue, as introducer, discussed the unionist and the nationalist positions in order to formulate their literary import. “Irish literature is a story of fracture,” Donoghue wrote, “the death of one language, so far as it is dead or dying or...

  5. 2 The Bernard Shaw Cult, New York, 1905
    (pp. 34-54)

    In the fall of 1905, Bernard Shaw was one of the most newsworthy names in New York. The man remained in England, but the figure of the playwright was well established in America as that “Irish smut dealer.” He was widely cited in New York as the object of a cult, and from abroad Shaw managed his affairs to cultivate the cult. Within a single month, he discovered on the New York stage the liabilities of departing from Irish stereotypes and the benefits of courting infamy. The first lesson was learned from a production ofJohn Bull’s Other Island, a...

  6. 3 Synge’s Playboy, the Irish Players, and the Anti–Irish Irish Players
    (pp. 55-74)

    Bernard Shaw played a role in the general debate overThe Playboy of the Western Worldin New York in 1911. He was called as understudy to the playwright, for J.M. Synge had died in 1909. However, just as Shaw had made an advancement of sorts over Boucicault, he was now surpassed in turn. In his Irish play of 1905,John Bull’s Other Island, the method of attack had failed to attract attention. In 1911, with Synge’s Irish play about a village on the wild Mayo coast, the Irish Players on tour escalated much the same method of attack, as...

  7. 4 James Joyce Downtown
    (pp. 75-97)

    The Abbey Theatre of Dublin contributed to New York theater history by rejecting Shaw’sJohn Bull’s Other Islandfor pragmatic reasons, and Ireland’s national theater, once more in the person of W.B. Yeats, contributed again by rejecting James Joyce’s playExilesfor aesthetic reasons. As Yeats wrote to Joyce in 1915, the play “is a type of work we have never played well.” He could not have said the same to Shaw a decade earlier because exactly what the Abbey did play well was not evident before the J.M. Synge years. After Synge, Yeats could be quite specific about what...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 Sean O’Casey and Within the Gates:: The Irish Playwright Comes to New York
    (pp. 98-121)

    The image of James Joyce that informed the Neighborhood Playhouse production ofExileswas, appropriately enough, remote, projected from afar, a telecommunication from Europe through the New York agents. In late 1934, in support of his non-Irish Irish play, Sean O’Casey came to New York to supervise personally the image of the playwright. He had no shortage of local agents for his playWithin the Gates, notably George Jean Nathan and Eugene O’Neill. He was, of course, interested in preparing a new production, for in early 1934 the play had been assailed in London. But the effect of his visit...

  10. 6 Waiting for Godot in New York
    (pp. 122-144)

    A very broad trajectory of the playwright’s imagination of audience in the twentieth century can be traced from a beginning point with Dion Boucicault and an ending point with Samuel Beckett. In 1875, at the closing of his successful production ofThe Shaughraun, Boucicault stood on the stage before his audience and told them: “You offer me the most honorable distinction to which any artist can aspire, and that is the assurance of his fellow citizens that they perceive in his works, together with something that is sweet, something that is good.”¹ About seventy-five years later, whenWaiting for Godot...

  11. 7 Brian Friel: Erin on Broadway
    (pp. 145-165)

    In Brian Friel’sPhiladelphia, Here I Come!, Gar O’Donnell prepares to emigrate from Ireland for America. In 1966 Friel’s play immigrated from Ireland to New York. The story in the play is a story of emigration, and the story about the play is one of immigration. The chief stage device of the play, which is very effective though not unprecedented, is representation of Gar O’Donnell by two actors, one playing the Public Gar that other characters know, and on playing the Private Gar that vocalizes personal fantasies and private desires. The two characters, memorably played in the New York premiere...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 166-179)
  13. Index
    (pp. 180-192)