September in New York City ushers in a new theatrical season, and what better way to begin than with the annual Origin’s 1st Irish 2015? Now in its eighth year, this festival of Irish Theater, running from September 2-October 4, welcomes companies from Dublin, Limerick, Belfast and across NYC. Performed in different locations around the city, no two plays or venues are alike.
“Stoopdreamer,” by Pat Fenton, directed by Kira Simring and staged at The Cell in Chelsea on West 23rd Street, is a nostalgic triptych: three characters in search of a neighborhood that for the most part has disappeared.
Set in Farrell’s, one of the last Irish saloons in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, the amiable, elder bartender Jimmy (Jack O’Connell) begins by speaking to the audience about unwelcome changes in the neighborhood; and no villain was more great than Robert Moses, his Prospect Expressway bulldozing 400 homes, countless businesses and displacing 1,215 people. This is illustrated with projected visuals behind him (and throughout the play), to show exactly what kind of damage Moses wrought. Jimmy scoffs at the fancy bars setting up business in the neighborhood, with their “50 different kinds of craft beer. Here, we serve Budweiser. Cold.” As for the demise of old-style pubs, he says of Pete Hamill, when he was young, “There were so many Irish saloons with their doors wide open he could listen to the whole Brooklyn Dodgers game by just walking around.”
Billy Coffey (Bill Cwikowski), retired police officer, sits at the bar writing in his notebook. He is next to speak to the audience, with stories, anecdotes, and some nice phrases, like “Rockaway Beach – the Irish Riviera.” Frustrated in his ambitions to become a writer, he followed the “thin blue line”; now, instead of taking a job as a doorman on Park Avenue, he will write instead. And he never married (leading to…).
A lot of this talk is historical, with many names, dates, numbers. Because interaction between the characters comes late in the play, the format lends itself more to reading than listening. Until, that is, Janice Joyce (Robin Leslie Brown) walks into the bar.
Someone please write Ms. Brown a one-woman show. Please. It doesn’t hurt that Janice is the only three-dimensional character, with wants and needs, who is after something more than nostalgia. But Brown brings a lived-in, regretful, vibrant, authenticity to Janice, so she conversed with the audience, rather than talking to us.
And the faces! The faces of these wonderful actors are glorious: not Hollywood, not immobile, but real. Faces you would want to spend time with. Faces that have stories to tell, lives they have lived, adventures they have had. Got an hour? See “Stoop dreamers,” presented by nancy manocherian’s the cell collaborative. Then afterwards, find an Irish pub and get yourself a beer. You’ll want one. You will.