By Harry Keaney
Absence from Ireland may or may not make the heart grow fonder. In the case of the Celtic Tiger economy, absence certainly makes the country’s transformation all the more striking to those who return.
It hit Anne Marie Scanlon two years ago during a visit to Dublin and the area in which she grew up. "I had been in Beirut the previous year and Dublin was like that: there were construction cranes everywhere," she said. "There were car parks where car parks hadn’t existed. I felt I had to stop and get my bearings around St. Stephen’s Green, where I went to school. HCR, Hayes Cunningham Roberts, an old chemist shop, on Grafton Street, was part of Boots, the big pharmacy chain."
While much in Ireland has indeed "changed, changed utterly," to quote W.B. Yeats, it’s probably still too early to declare that a "terrible beauty is born." But those prone to succumb to the hype of economic boom and bloom could do worse than turn to comedy for a leveler, specifically Scanlon and her theatrical colleagues in "Celtic Tiger, Me Arse," a play by Dubliner Don Creedon, which opens this Wednesday evening in the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan.
In describing the play’s take on the Celtic Tiger, Scanlon veers away from the word "satirical." Instead, she said, "it’s just funny looking at how Ireland has changed, and changed radically."
Scanlon herself is no stranger in tapping into the mundane of everyday life to find the comical, even the ridiculous.
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"In my late teens I had this secret ambition to do stand-up comedy and I was afraid to tell people because, ironically, I thought they would probably laugh at me," she said. "Comedy to me is about perspective. You look at something and it’s not funny, but a comic will look at something from a different angle and it is funny."
Scanlon, 27, was born in Clar, about three miles from Donegal Town, and moved to Dublin when she was 5. Her parents were .separated. When she was about 8 or 9, her mother, Nora, took her to acting classes in the Brendan Smith Theatrical Academy, on Georges Street.
She graduated from UCD with a bachelor’s degree in history and English and, subsequently, a master’s in history. In UCD, she was a committee member of Dramsoc, the largest amateur dramatic society in Ireland.
It was in London, while working for AIB, that she realized her ambition of doing stand-up comedy. In 1994, after obtaining a green card, she came to the U.S. and worked for two years with the investment banking and brokerage house Dean Witter, trading futures and commodities. She found the work "soul-destroying" and left to concentrate on finishing her first book, "Velocity."
"It’s about three fast women whose lives are going nowhere slow," she said.
She has also completed the manuscript for a second book entitled "In Stitches," which deals with a family in which the father has become abusive. She said the book isn’t autobiographical and anyway, she added, "my father wasn’t around that long."
Both books have yet to be published.
"Celtic Tiger, Me Arse," is Scanlon’s return to the stage, herself and Tracey Ferguson obtaining cameo roles as "Mrs. Bradshaw" and "Sharon" after auditions. Scanlon is also a coproducer of the play, a job that mainly involved fundraising and PR.
"Celtic Tiger, Me Arse" open this Wednesday at the Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st St., with gala opening night on Friday. It will run for four weeks with a possible two-week extension. Times are Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sundays.