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The Irish & How They Got that Way

The Irish & How They Got that Way

by KATHRYN BOUGHTON

The late Frank McCourt could be considered the quintessential Irish immigrant. Fleeing poverty in Ireland, he worked hard, educated himself and ultimately achieved a generous portion of the American dream.

The publication of his biting memoir, Angela’s Ashes, in 1996, reciting his impoverished childhood in Limerick brought him a Pulitzer Prize, international fame, unaccustomed riches and a luxurious home in Roxbury.

By far his best-known work, Angela’s Ashes was followed by two other autobiographical tales, ‘Tis and Teacher Man. He also created two works for the stage—the first the rollicking memoir he composed with his brother, Malachy, in 1981 and the second, writing the book for the musical, The Irish… and How They Got That Way, first performed Off-Broadway at the Irish Repertory Theatre in 1997.

It is this last effort that is being performed this week at the Warner Theatre’s Nancy Marine Studio Theatre. By popular demand, the theatre has added a performance on Thursday evening.

The play, which recounts the history of the Irish in Ireland and America in the 20th and 21st centuries, features an eclectic mix of Irish music ranging from the traditional Danny Boy to U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

“The show runs the gamut,” said director and choreographer Meredith Porri, who, like McCourt, is a high school English teacher with a long history of amateur performances on stage. “When I first read it, it had me laughing and crying. I fell in love with the history of it. It’s not fictional—these are all true-life stories and they open eyes to so many pieces of Irish story.”

Porri said the cast consists of four actors, all of whom assume multiple roles. Casting presented the director with her first challenge. “My vision was to have two men and two women to represent both Ireland’s traditional history and more recent history. They would have to be able to sing, dance and act, which is not common. It was a process to find the four but they mesh perfectly.”

The cast consists of Bret Bisaillon, Susan Kulp, L. Nagel and Josh Newey. “They are all veteran actors at the Warner,” Porri said. “In everyday life, they are everything from a life insurance agent to a 5th grade teacher. It’s nice to have people from different walks of life in the production.”

The play is a series of vignettes, which created a challenge in itself for the actors. “They had to learn different Irish brogues,” she said. “And they have to do British and American accents and switch between them. They had to do a lot of research, which is an extra layer, learning things like, ‘Who am I talking about? Who am I trying to be?’ But this cast is extremely versatile which contributed greatly to the ease of rehearsals.

“We talk about famine, the immigration to America, U.S. presidents of Irish descent, the Irish-American character in vaudeville—how the Irish people came to America and formed America,” she continued. “There are a lot of Irish influences in America not everyone knows about.”

Some of the sequences are droll while others are blatantly sentimental. She said there is a funny scene between an Irish housemaid and her mistress. “I don’t want to give it all away, but let’s just say the Irish housemaid takes everything her mistress tells her literally and it makes for a pretty funny scene,” said Porri. “Our goal is to have the audience both laughing and crying throughout the show. There are moments that tug at every heartstring, and there are other moments that will have you rolling in the aisles.”

Remaining performances are March 15, 16 and 17 at 8PM. and March 18 at 2PM. It is presented by special arrangement with The Irish Repertory Company. The Nancy Marine Studio Series is sponsored by Northwest Community Bank.

To buy tickets, call the Warner box office at 860-489-7180 or visit the link below.

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