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LUCK OF THE IRISH

A guy, a girl, a guitar, and a movie that went on to gross 100 times its budget—that’s the formula for Once, a new musical about a Dublin busker and a Czech immigrant who fall quickly into harmony and slowly into love. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, stars of the 2006 film, have supplied the music and lyrics, wordsmith Enda Walsh the book, John Tiffany the direction, and Steven Hoggett the movement. Although the show had once hoped to begin on Broadway, it will now launch with a trial run at New York Theatre Workshop with a local cast led by Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti. With luck, they’ll take the chorus of the film’s Oscar-winning song to heart: “Falling slowly sing your melody/I’ll sing it loud.”

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 15. Continues through Jan. 15, 2011

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John Hurt Never Had Any Ambition, and Other Good Stuff

One of the most accomplished (and most steadily-employed) English actors of his generation, John Hurt is known for his droll Quentin Crisp, I, Claudius’s godhead Caligula, and for vivid victim-in-pain performances including pleasure seeker-turned-courtroom-sacrifice Stephen Ward in 1989’s tabloid-trial thriller Scandal. Like Ward, Hurt was a vicar’s son, but left his native Midlands to pursue the muse. After studying painting at St. Martin’s College (when asked of his style, Hurt responds: “Do you know Edvard Munch’s work?”), Hurt transferred to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and shortly found employment in the lively world of UK teleplays and on stage.

It was 1966’s A Man For All Seasons that launched his prolific film career—2011 alone has brought credits in Melancholia, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and another Harry Potter—which BAMcinématek celebrates with its four-feature retrospective of Hurt’s film work, including his indelible performance in The Elephant Man. This highly selective mini-series, also featuring Scandal and his lovelorn gay novelist of Love and Death in Long Island, arrives in conjunction with Hurt’s performance in Samuel Beckett’s one-actor one-act Krapp’s Last Tape. It’s a role that Hurt, now 71, first played for Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 1999, of a 69-year old listening to tape recordings of his 39-year old self. On the phone from Washington, D.C., where he was preparing to perform his U.S. stage debut in Krapp’s, Hurt put himself on tape for us.

To what degree have you curated your career? To what degree has it been a matter of just keeping shoulder to grindstone and seeing what happens?

To a degree, the latter, tawdry description that you suggest probably has quite a lot to do with the truth. I always say I would rather be working than not working. There are times in my life, without any question, when you take the best of whatever bunch is there. It has not been a matter of waiting from one jewel to the next jewel.

And yet there are certain patterns that emerge in the work—one that’s most commented on is the fact that you are so often victimized. Is it accurate to say that you have a particularly deep well of pain to draw from, or is it more a matter of craft.

I don’t think that that’s a matter of craft, because it’s not. On the other hand, without craft, you wouldn’t get it across. I can’t tell you how deep my well is. But I can tell you I wouldn’t be able to draw it out of the well if it were not for craft.

With The Elephant Man, how did you get a performance across through all of the prosthesis?

The old word “craft” comes out again, doesn’t it? There are many things you need to know. You need to know what angles to use, how to use the light. You need to know something about mime. I worked very closely with Chris Tucker who did the makeup as well… I did have my eyes, but they weren’t always usable. What I did have was a voice. I think it’s really why I chose a voice that is certainly not a voice that he would have had, but a voice that he would have wished to have had, a voice to which he would aspire to.

Having played Krapp’s Last Tape over a dozen years, in what ways has your understanding of the play changed?

It’s very interesting when you come back to doing something after you’ve left it alone for about three or four years. You come back to it thinking “I need to really re-examine this all together,” you start examining it, and there aren’t in fact many stones that you left unturned. But being nearer to the right age, there are certain changes…. I think I play him with not quite so much anger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean softer at the edges. It’s quite subtle the changes, those that there are. The reason for this is that Beckett is one of those writers that is, essentially, like Wilde, incredibly musical. And once you’ve found the theme of it, that musicality, it’s almost silly to try to change it.

Are the tapes that you’re listening to on stage the same tapes you recorded in Dublin in 1999?

They are the same tapes, yeah. It does add an extra element… Memory’s a weird thing—sometimes you can’t remember anything of a particular area of your life. On the other hand, I can remember almost second-to-second the whole of that recording session. I can remember exactly why we went down the lines of almost every reading of every phrase.

You were opposite Olivier in his grand-old-man King Lear, obviously a career capper for him. Is there any role you’re desperate to do?

I have never really known what I wanted to do next. I never had ambition; I never was the sort of person who was dying to play Hamlet or whatever. I try not to make those decisions myself. I am, if you like, the addition of other people’s imagination. I find that the most interesting way to work in a sense, because it keeps one able to make life more varied and also I find myself doing things that I myself probably would never have thought of. I think that’s the way it’s done.

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Lord of the Dance 3D: More Dimensions for Michael Flatley’s Megalomania

Michael Flatley knows what you think of him. He’s heard it all—cantering megalomaniac, spotlight-humping hambone—and he’s here to tell you that he’s selling out stages around the world without you. Yet I suspect even his fans—and I could now identify at least a couple of you in a lineup—will be disappointed by Lord of the Dance 3D. After an introduction in which Flatley enumerates his successes, taunts the haters, and talks up his homecoming Dublin show, the film comprises a single concert as performed, which means it never morphs into the amazing Christopher Guest jam it first suggests. Strike two is the fact that, not counting one superb, David Lee Roth scissor-kick in slo-mo, director Marcus Viner does little to marry Flatley’s métier to the form. Irish step dancing—in which dancers stand in place and twizzle, stab, and stomp their feet into the floor in perfect, martial formation—is particularly ill-suited to 3-D, and in most of the dozen or so set pieces, Flatley, wearing black, dances against a black background (and Fred Astaire wept). Even Flatley infidels will find themselves starved for a well-lit close-up of those whirling feet, or maybe just the tantalizing illusion of a swift, blackout kick to the head.

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DO THE TWIST

Move over, Barnum and Bailey—there’s a new circus in town. The Australian performance company Circa melds choreography and acrobatics and—unlike Cirque du Soleil—opts for a stripped-down aesthetic, wowing audiences around the globe in prestigious venues such as the Sydney Opera House, Dublin Theatre Festival, and the Barbican in London. Set to a soundtrack that includes Sigur Rós, Leonard Cohen, and Jacquel Brel, its self-titled New York debut features grueling, emotionally charged feats of physical capability. Multi-skilled performers often grimace as they work through intricate, risky routines in which timing and accuracy are everything (for instance, when a woman in red stilettos walks all over a man’s body, there’s little room for error). It’s no surprise that many performers leave visibly battered and bruised.

March 3-5, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 3 p.m., 2011

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The Script

Tired of wondering how and why Snow Patrol got so huge across the pond? Try the Script! These Dublin dudes ply a similar brand of namby-pamby pop-rock, only with a streak of blue-eyed soul instead of Snow Patrol’s U2 thing. Telling (no-)fun fact: Snoozy American Idol winner Kris Allen covered their “Live Like We’re Dying” as his first post-victory single. With Joshua Radin.

Thu., Nov. 4, 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 5, 8 p.m., 2010

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Absolution’s Homicidal Avenger Gets His Irish Up

Rangy and remorseless, with a shock of ginger hair, the unnamed narrator of Owen O’Neill’s twisty monodrama Absolution makes the side of the angels look like a decidedly creepy place to be. A sort of Dexter of the Emerald Isle, he trains his homicidal energies on the pedophile priests who apparently run rampant in this stretch of Irish countryside.

O’Neill, who also stars, brings a sweaty physicality to the recollections of his acts, the gruesome work of a sociopath with a messianic streak: “I was doing this on God’s behalf, because I knew that sooner or later he would come around to my way of thinking.” His nimble baritone voice and coiled body language are more than up to the task of embodying the play’s many victims and victimizers, with the exception of an ill-advised “dialogue” he conducts with himself, abetted by some prerecorded audio.

Certain nagging questions go unresolved for nearly all of Absolution (part of this year’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival, courtesy of Dublin’s Gúna Nua Theatre): How is it that our protagonist literally can’t go relieve himself in the woods without stumbling onto a predatory priest? Wouldn’t the absence of five local clergymen warrant a more rigorous police investigation? And where’s the backstory? What kind of serial killer denies his audience a list of formative sins and pathologies that have set him on his murderous path?

By the end, however, a pair of plot twists address all of these questions and quirks. They come with the speed and severity of a grisly O. Henry short story, vaulting Absolution from a diverting case study into a shiversome look at the co-opting of evil. Both God and His self-appointed executioner, it seems, work in mysterious ways.

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With Teresa Deevy’s Wife to James Whelan, A Deaf Playwright Gets a Fair Hearing

Irish, female, and hearing-impaired from the age of 20 (Ménière’s disease), the playwright Teresa Deevy (1894–1963) has everything that could lure a theater into an act of literary rediscovery. What nonprofit institution wouldn’t want the glory of reclaiming from oblivion a gender-oppressed, disabled artist born into a minority nation struggling for its independence? For a bonus, even the nationalist theater that nurtured Deevy ultimately turned against her: By the time she completed Wife to James Whelan in 1942, the Abbey Theatre, which had had some success with her earlier plays, was in new, conservative hands; it turned the play down. No further work of hers was produced there.

Deevy’s subsequent plays were written for radio broadcast. The rejected script didn’t have its Dublin premiere till 1956; London has never seen it. Its New York premiere now comes courtesy of the Mint Theater, which specializes in rediscovery. Only one previous Deevy play has ever been seen here, on a tour by the Abbey players in 1937. (Another work brought on that tour was the droll Drama at Inish, by Deevy’s great fan and supporter Lennox Robinson, which the Mint resuscitated last season under its original title, Is Life Worth Living?)

Given all this, critics are inevitably suspicious from the outset. A playwright who sports Deevy’s list of grievances must be a prime candidate for special pleading; culture-of-complaint practitioners undoubtedly arrive at the theater with their bagfuls of apologetics ready to launch. Mercifully, the suspicion dissipates fast, to be replaced by delighted surprise. Deevy is actually a playwright, and a rather good one, with a distinctly individual quality. If her situation in life gave her cause to be aggrieved, you certainly couldn’t tell it from Wife to James Whelan, in which life is explored, sharply and affectingly, while absolutely no axes are ground.

Deevy’s dialogue, colloquially simple and straightforward, seems artless at first. But on closer inspection, it turns out to gleam, like rich ore, with glints of subtext’s precious metal. Hearing-impaired or not, she listened acutely. Her story, like her dialogue, is both simple and not simple, moving forward with a dour gravity that mirrors the near-inexplicable, but thoroughly understandable, obduracy of its two main characters. When Deevy discovered theater—in London, where she was sent to learn lip-reading after becoming deafher two main passions were Shaw and Chekhov. Both left their marks on this play, which suggests the unhappy courtship of The Cherry Orchard‘s Lopakhin and Varya, shifted to a small-town Irish setting and submerged in a Shavian parable of achievers versus underdogs. In this latter aspect, it often evokes, eerily, Shaw’s final play, Why She Would Not, left unfinished at his death in 1950. One almost wonders if he hadn’t, somehow, stumbled across Deevy’s still-unproduced script and been provoked to write his own variant.

Although Deevy herself apparently descended from manor-house gentry, no great estate of the kind that complicates matters in Shaw and Chekhov intervenes here. Her play’s title refers not to a person but to a concept: James Whelan (Shawn Fagan) is a factory lad with big ambitions; no one actually becomes his wife in the course of the play, though all three of its female characters contemplate the prospect. Tapped by his employers to fill a better job in Dublin, James readily turns his back on every aspect of rural Kilbeggan, except for Nan (Janie Brookshire), the one person in town who isn’t either elated or envious to see him move up a rung on the economic ladder.

While James, stung in his youth by the genteel snobbery of the local rich, envisions his coming back as a man of means, to bring the region jobs and prosperity, Nan, tart-tongued but sensitive, would prefer him to stay as he is, trading upward mobility for the contentment of a fixed place in this sleepy region where everyone knows and meddles in everyone else’s business. A classic embodiment of male-female misunderstanding, the duo also seems to represent the running dialectic of pre–World War II Ireland, fighting desperately to modernize yet always reluctant to abandon its long-ingrained, heavily class-stratified traditions.

Acts Two and Three take place seven years after James’s departure for Dublin. (The Mint sensibly supplies two intermissions.) Nan, the complacent pessimist who sees no good in change, has duly drawn the ill luck that comes with such low expectations. When James returns from Dublin a newly prosperous entrepreneur, she redoubles that ill luck through a desperate gesture, brought on by the renewed collision of her persistent pride with his now-overweening arrogance. That provides a real shocker of a second-act curtain. The shock is moral: Both Nan and James do something that’s against common sense and against their own best interests, but the elements add up clearly to make us see why people, in certain situations, will do such things. (As the echo of Hedda Gabler in that phrase might suggest, Ibsen, too, seems to have played a part in shaping Deevy’s sensibility.)

Deevy bolsters the effect by surrounding her intransigent almost-lovers with a circle of village characters whose well-meaning interference comes, in part, from equally self-centered motives. Three men besides James flutter around pretty, noncommittal Nan; a fourth, younger, idolizes James, who has befriended him since childhood, but pines for the spoiled and restless rich girl whom James courts on his return. The ending stabilizes, rather than resolves, the situation. Love, like economics, is a perpetually mixed blessing, forever subject to change.

Jonathan Bank’s production does what we now expect Mint productions to do: It lays the play out cleanly, a distinct blessing in the case of a work this good. The acting, solidly competent, is rarely inspired; Bank’s direction tends either to slide glossily over key points or to hammer them home. Rosie Benton, as the most matronly of James’s adorers, Jon Fletcher as his idolizer, and Aidan Redmond as the helpful fellow who talks of knowing “the right time” for everything, but whose advice invariably chimes in at the wrong time, each manage to make a few such moments tell without any hammering.

mfeingold@villagevoice.com

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No Happily Ever After for Kids of Kisses

Strictly speaking, the two scrappy Irish kids in Lance Daly’s Kisses aren’t homeless, but in every sense that matters, they have only each other for shelter. Kylie and Dylan (played by Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry, both plucked from Dublin schools and oozing forlorn defiance) live next door to each other in a dreary housing project outside one of the world’s most picturesque cities. Home is a spiritual desert aptly filmed in black and white, where a Christmas greeting from Dad translates as “I’ll smash your fuckin’ face in,” and where all a mother with bruises of her own can do to protect her child is whisper, “Run.”

Run they do, armed with Christmas money and a resolve to find Dylan’s older brother, who went missing two years earlier. And as they run, this latter-day Hansel and Gretel—so foul-mouthed and heavily accented that they require subtitles—escape from Loachian neorealism into the junky beauty of an urban fairy tale, with a bold touch of Fellini. As the children hitch a ride on the canal from a kindly immigrant, Daly dribbles in color, his camera picking out a hopeful pink and yellow in Kylie and Dylan’s clothing.

By the time the runaways reach Dublin, it’s dusk, yet their mood lifts at the prospect of a new habitat teeming with nocturnal life and saturated with a richly dark palette that recalls John Carney’s lovely 2006 Irish musical romance Once. Street buskers come festooned with fairy lights; a beautiful black hooker bestows protective kisses; and Bob Dylan, an unlikely fairy godfather channeled by Stephen Rea, sings the runaways through terrifying encounters with the bogeymen in and around them. Isn’t it romantic?

Kisses is far from the first, nor will it be the last, movie to suggest that for a growing army of kids in almost any city, life on the streets may be safer and more exciting, and bring more comfort than home does. Daly shows little mercy for the parents, who, after all, have barely cleared their own traumatized childhoods. But he does understand that children and migrant workers may be the most urgent casualties of a runaway global economy. And he’s more aware than most that the romance of the inner city can only be pushed so far before it starts serving a filmmaker’s aesthetic more than it does his subject.

If Kisses is filled with a kid’s-eye view of fresh experience and freedom—a free slide across an ice rink, a tour of the mall on heel wheels, a breathless race through a topless bar—inevitably, its pleasures give way to violence and danger, and finally a wake-up to a new day stripped of all color. The movie’s ending may be less satisfying than that of Slumdog Millionaire—a film you can love for its infectiously wishful exuberance, but never fully believe in—but Kisses is truer to the tragedy of a generation of children whom we have utterly failed. If they’re anything like Kylie and Dylan, they’ll be back to let us know.

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Rodrigo y Gabriela

This Dublin-based coed acoustic guitar duo consists of Mexican metalheads who excel at Latin-flavored classical guitar. They still proudly declare their rock and metal origins through covers of Metallica’s “Orion” and a non-cheesy, tasteful reinterpretation of Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Expect lots of tracks from the recent eclectic tribute album 11:11, featuring homages to heroes as varied as Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Dimebag Darrell, John McLaughlin, and Astor Piazzolla.

Thu., April 29, 8 p.m., 2010

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St. Patrick’s Weekend Irish New York Walking Tour

Tour of the historically Irish district of the Lower East Side which at one time was home to more Irish residents than Dublin. Stops include the Five Points, the first Catholic Church in the City, and sites associated with Tammany Hall.

Meet: Big Onion walking tours, meet in front of St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway btwn Fulton and Vesey.

Sat., March 13, 11 a.m., 2010