“He makes a mean Cherry Coke.”

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Last night I went to a stage production of Steel Magnolias at the Black Box theatre. The show has been traveling around Ireland, with The OC star Mischa Barton in the role of Shelby.

The southern accents were great, although one or two of the characters gave Shreveport an extra syllable. Still, they managed to pronounce Louisiana like natives.

Since the play is set in the 1980s, I was curious as to why a 1990s Faith Hill song was playing during an interval between scenes – and more than a bit surprised when my friend from Poland started singing along.

I brushed it off, but during the next scene, Shelby tapped the radio in Truvvy’s salon like she was The Fonz, and another sassy Faith Hill song started playing as she sashayed out the door. That, kids, is what’s known as an anachronism, a chronological impossibility. I guess I know my polished pop country crap a little better than the Irish production team anticipated.

All was forgiven, though, by the poignant placement of Willie’s version of You Were Always On My Mind. The play is set entirely inside the beauty shop, so the audience never sees Shelby in the hospital, just listens while her mother tells the ladies everything. I’ve seen the movie a million times, and I was still fighting back tears.

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Galway Theatre Festival

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Tonight, I went to the culmination – at least for me – of the Galway Theatre Festival, which has been running this past week at venues all over town. I went to three plays over the course of the week, and for someone who claims to not like theatre, I had an overall pleasant experience.

I bought tickets for the Wednesday night opening of An Taibhdhearc, the Irish-language theatre in Middle Street, to see if I couldn’t challenge my Beginner’s Irish. The very first show in the theatre was to be Pinocchio, so I thought it might be an easy story to follow. This wasn’t Disney’s Pinocchio, but rather Pinocchio: A Nightmare, in which our little wooden boy is now a hardheaded Irish teenager (played by an actress with an accent I’m told is Corkian). The creativity employed in the bilingual production provided a great example for how I – or anyone, really – should approach learning Ireland’s native language. Bilingual conversations where one character’s Irish question could be deduced by the other’s English answers, humorous descriptive placards before scenes, detailed sound effects produced on stage by an actor visible to the audience, and simply great acting made it easy to see the complementary interaction between Gaeilge and English in modern Ireland.

The next morning, I caught the 11am showing of Sanctuary at the Blue Teapot Theatre. This was a play about the love lives of people with intellectual disabilities, and it was very sweet and funny. One of the supporting actresses, who becomes involved in a secondary love story, had some of the best comedic timing and deadpan delivery I’ve ever seen. It didn’t hurt that the group’s cool-but-sensitive-and-understanding carer, Tom, was played by a very attractive actor that had several girls in the audience giggling. An inspired set design and a few loose parallels to another Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, brought it all together around the question we all sometimes ask ourselves: How could anybody love me?

I finally got to see the inside of the Druid Theatre when I turned up (and I seriously considered not going) for the 5-euro event “24 Hour Theatre” tonight. The participants (many of whom I recognized from campus) had 24 hours to write, rehearse, and perform 15-20 minute plays. There were three groups, with three plays, which grew increasingly more meta over the course of the evening. We started with a small-town Ireland take on Hansel and Gretel, moved to a hilarious group therapy session, and were spoken to directly about the nature of drama by the characters that manifested on stage as the actors themselves. The first play had the best writing, the second had the best acting, and the third had the best personalities. All in all, it was very inspiring and I’m glad I went.

Throughout the week, I’ve been hearing about all the plays I should have seen. Home has been praised frequently, and there was some Beckett I didn’t know about when I bought my tickets. I also heard good things about The Butcher Molloy, which is apparently set during the last time Galway won the hurling final and thus could have been a lot more poignant if the Tribesmen had gotten the win last Sunday.

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“There’s no little spoons for liars in this house.”

I first saw The Beauty Queen of Leenane when I was 17 and went with my grandmother to visit her sister in Los Angeles over spring break. I was a senior in high school, and I knew everything about everything. My great-aunt and her husband had season tickets to the theatre, and they gave us a choice of a traditional play or an avant garde production. We chose the avant garde, which happened to be The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Unbeknownst to me, The Beauty Queen of Leenane had opened four years earlier at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. The play’s world premiere was also the first play in the new theatre, back in February of 1996 – a joint production of Galway’s Druid Theatre Company and England’s Royal Court Theatre. By the time I saw it at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, it had played on Broadway, in Australia, and all over Ireland.

I remember being very preoccupied with the sensation of taste and how the actor’s mouths formed words. I was hung up on the question of Kimberleys (“Me world doesn’t revolve around your taste in biscuits”) and the way both mother and daughter spat out the word spoon. I can’t comment on the quality of their accents, because I was 17 and had nothing against which to compare them, but they seemed fine at the time.

On a recent reread of the play, I was more concerned with the sensation of smell. The suspicious odor of the kitchen sink, the scent of something burning in the air. I even wonder if they shouldn’t have had a turf fire, instead of using coal to fire the range.

It’s also different this time because the place names resonate with me. The Dooleys throw a going away party for their American cousins at a hall in Carraroe, which is the town where I finally stopped for coffee and directions when I went for a drive along the coast road. Maureen wants to go shopping in Westport, which is the town I passed through two weekends ago on my way to the Grace Kelly Film Festival. And, of course, the family I crashed into with my rental car on my second day here was from Leenane.

In my Irish language course earlier this week, our instructor went on a brief tangent about the “Do Be Do Be Do” tense in Irish: you’ll hear older people, perhaps those who grew up speaking Irish but can switch to English as necessary, saying things like, “I do be going to the shops,” or “I do be watching the hurling.” Mag, the elderly mother in Beauty Queen, says early in the play, “I do be scared, Maureen.”

I went to a casual discussion about this play on campus with a bunch of PhD students, and I learned that Martin McDonagh is often perceived as “not Irish enough,” because he grew up mostly in South London. I also learned that the play’s violence was heavily influenced by 1994’s Pulp Fiction. And I learned that this play references the other two plays in The Leenane Triology: A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West.

My favorite critique of the play, however, comes from my grandmother, who attended the same LA production as me, all those years ago:

“If the ‘feckins’ had been left out, it would have lasted half the time.”

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