BOTTOM LINE: Insightful and poignant monologues inspired by the New York Press. Each one is a separate character study, distinct but tied together by the show’s concept. Simply staged and well acted, the show proves that the Irish live up to their reputation for spinning a good yarn out of any material, including the Post.
Spinning the Times, an Origin Theater Production that is part of the First Irish Festival, is an opportunity to taste the work of five women playwrights from Ireland. A world premiere, each of the five writers was tasked with creating a monologue specifically for this show, based on a story plucked out of the New York news media. As is often the case with theater inspired by news headlines, each piece has political overtones, some more subtle than others. However, issues never overshadowed the individuals portrayed on stage. Instead, each piece is a window into the way character is shaped by context.
Rosemary Jenkinson’s The Lemon Tree, explores a day in the life of Kenny, a protestant teenager in Belfast who usually spends his time drinking in the park with his buddies and picking fights with Catholics. When Kenny is cajoled into attending a church benefit with his mother, held on behalf of struggling Palestinians, he begins to gain insight into the futility of ethnic conflict, only to come home to find that his house has been set on fire by rival Catholics.
The Luthier, written by Lucy Caldwell, is a quiet and moving piece about a young Palestinian man who has lost his family and closest friends in the conflicts with Israel. Though he has lived through mind-numbing tragedy, he connects to all of humanity, including Jews, through their music, and finds peace in the craft of instrument repair.
Miracle Conway, by Geraldine Aron, is a comedic piece that deconstructs the desperation of celebrity obsession. The piece follows the psychological unraveling of a would-be murderess who becomes convinced that her famous employer should be liberated from his marriage.
The most intriguing monologue of the evening, Gin in a Teacup, is the portrait of a Persian American woman who finds meaning, history and identity in vintage clothes. The piece is a lovely exploration of the depth of meaning behind seemingly frivolous pursuits, as well as the limits of personal and collective reinvention.
Finally, the evening comes full circle with Fugue by Belinda McKeon, about another young Irishman affected by the ongoing ethnic conflict in Belfast. Forced to flee Ireland to protect his family, he lands in New York City only to be displaced again—this time by a greedy landlord who sets his apartment building on fire to collect the insurance money.
Across the board, the five monologues in Spinning the Times are interesting, well-written and insightful. Director M. Burke Walker keeps the staging simple, placing the emphasis on the internal life of the characters rather than external trappings and stagecraft. If you like solo performance and if you are interested in getting to know Irish playwrights of the moment, this is the show for you.
(Spinning the Times plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison & Park. The show plays through September 20th, Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:30pm, and Sunday 3:30pm. The show runs 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $25 (members $17.50). For tickets, visit www.ticketcentral.com. For more information visit www.59e59.org.)