Lovers of Irish theater have a lot to thank Garry Hynes for. Since she founded the Druid Theater Company in 1975 with actors Mick Lally and Marie Mullen, it has become one of the most important and respected organizations in Irish theater, as well as helped Galway City gain considerable ground on Dublin’s iron grip as the epicenter of histrionic culture in Ireland.
Through her imaginative and skillful interpretations of their work, contemporary Irish audiences have rediscovered the genius of playwrights like Sean O’Casey and John Millington Synge beyond studying their texts in the classroom.
In addition, she has championed the work of some of Ireland’s most exciting and talented contemporary playwrights. Druid’s 1985 production of “Conversations of a Homecoming,” by Galway-born playwright Tom Murphy, was lauded by critics and audiences alike. The Oscar-winning, Tony-nominated playwright Martin McDonagh owes Hynes a debt of gratitude for taking a chance on his raw and often controversial work after several theaters, including the Abbey, turned him down.
Her production of “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” on Broadway in 1998 earned him a place among Broadway’s elite and her a Tony Award for direction.
This week will see Hynes bring one of her most ambitious projects to date to New York — an eight-hour marathon of Synge’s six-play canon, including his most celebrated work, “The Playboy of the Western World,” which provoked riots among audience members when the Abbey first staged it in 1907.
“Having worked on various individual productions, a couple of years ago, I began to think about doing them all together,” Hynes said, speaking to the Echo last week.
“First of all, it’s a very short canon because, tragically, he died young. It would take a lifetime to do all the works of Sean O’Casey, for instance. Second of all, it always seems to me that each of Synge’s plays are written from the same basic vision and that they are very chronical. It makes sense as a body of work. Thirdly, given that the cannon is dominated by “Playboy,” I thought it might be interesting to look at “Playboy,” in light of the other plays and look at the other plays in light of “Playboy.”
Hynes, a native of Ballaghadereen, Co. Roscommon, has had a long and faithful relationship with Synge’s work. “Playboy,” was the first production Druid Theater staged in 1975.
“I think it’s his passion for life,” Hynes said of her admiration for the playwright.
“His uncompromising vision and his passion for life and his celebration of everything about the individual and about life.”
So far, Hynes has been delighted with the response “DruidSynge,” has received since it premiered at the Galway Theater Festival last July, with “Irish Times,” critic Fintan O’Toole describing it as: “One of the greatest achievements in the history of the Irish theater.”
“I’ve been very happy, the reception has been pretty ecstatic right across the board and it needn’t have been and we’ve been very pleased about that.”
Last September, Hynes staged a performance of “DruidSynge,” on Inishmaan, where Synge lived for a time and which influenced the settings of all of his plays.
“For me certainly, one of the highlights of my career, if you want to call it that, would have been the performances of all of the Synge plays on Inishmaan, without a doubt,” Hynes said.
“It was huge, huge it was absolutely huge. I’m so lucky that I had the extraordinary team I had at Druid to make it possible.”
While Hynes’s interests extend far beyond Irish theater, she believes that Irish playwrights are among the best in the world.
“The wealth of our theater resides squarely in the wealth of our playwrights and, for whatever reason, we have managed to produce great writers who write great plays and that’s continuing,” she said.
“Obviously, the fact that our language is English, which is the international language of theater if you like is part of that process but it’s also the writers.”
Between 1991 and 1994, Hynes served as Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, which Synge helped W.B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory to found in 1904. In more recent years, financial and administrative problems have beset Ireland’s national theater; the centenary program in 2003 received a lukewarm reception, there was controversy over the theater’s proposed relocation from its current situation on Abbey Street.
In May of 2005, the Abbey’s then-Managing Director, Brian Jackson and Artistic Director, Ben Barnes, resigned after it emerged that the company had recorded deficits that were twice the predicted figures. But Hynes feels the theater is finally back on track.
“The kinds of changes that have taken place in the last couple of years are the kinds of changes that I was urging internally at the time but to little avail,” she said.
“It’s a pity that the organization had to effectively implode before those changes were made. But those changes are now in place and a director, a man of vision and leadership in Fiach MacConghail and I look forward, with optimism to the future.”
Fostering new talent, Hynes said, is vital to the continued success of Irish theater.
The future of the theater lies in it’s new writers,” she said.
“I’m obviously very pleased that Druid was the first to premier Martin’s [McDonagh] work. There’s a sense of recognition about the work, there is also the sense of a man with great theatrical ability and I thought: ‘yeah, let’s go for it.’ But that practice you always have to continue and so when I go back to Ireland We’ll be working with a range of new writers over the next few years including Stuart Carolan and a new writer from Belfast called Lucy Caldwell, so that process continues.
What play would she most like to stage?
“Well, it’s not so much plays as writers, but I think I’d like to do “Another Dance,” by Eugene O’Neill,” Hynes said. “Many, many years ago I did “Moon for the Misbegotten.” I like the same thing about O’Neill as I like about Synge. I think he was a man who had a great passion for life.”
Does she have a favorite play?
“No. No, I don’t,” Hynes said. “You have times when you remember a play made a particular mark like ‘Conversations of a Homecoming,’ by Tom Murphy and so on, but you don’t have favorites. It’s kind of like having favorites in your children, it doesn’t happen.”