By Joseph Hurley
The Irish Repertory Theatre’s founders and operators, Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly, have secured the services Liam Neeson, his wife, Natasha Richardson, and Richardson’s mother, Vanessa Redgrave, to host the Rep’s fifth annual Broadway fund-raising benefit, which will be held Monday, June 8, at the Cort Theatre.
Whereas past benefits concentrated on the work of such writers as William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde, this year’s program, entitled “Prophets and Heroes: A Celebration of the Path Toward Peace,” will be made up of songs, poems, and excerpts from plays and stories connected, one way and another, with the ongoing struggle for peace in Ireland, with particular emphasis on the North.
Participants in this year’s event will include such Rep regulars as Pauline Flanagan, Tommy Makem, Terry Donnelly, Marian Thomas Griffin, Eric Stoltz, Ciaran Sheehan, Milo O’Shea, Kitty Sullivan, Rusty Magee and Brian F. O’Byrne, plus, for the first time, actor Tate Donovan.
Both of the Rep’s managers will take part, with O’Reilly on stage and Moore, as in past years, directing the program both partners had a hand in putting together. In addition, author Frank McCourt, whose theatrical scrapbook, “The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way,” first appeared as a Rep benefit, will be in the company.
The musical portion of the event at the Cort, located at 138 West 48th St., will be made up of such contemporary numbers as Phil Coulter’s “The Town I Loved So Well” and Paul Brady’s “The Island,” in addition to rebel songs almost as old as the conflict itself, favorites like “Boulavogue,” “The Sash,” and “Kelly, the Boy From Killane.”
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
The program’s poetry will include Yeats’ “Easter 1916” and a selection from Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s “Station island,” in which the ghost of a friend of the poet returns in a dream and describes the agony he’d experienced. In addition, a little-known Yeats poem, “Come Gather Round Me, Parnellites,” will be included.
Scenes from classic Irish theater will include moments from Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock,” Brian Friel’s “The Freedom of the City,” and a less familiar stage work, “The Bold Girls.” In addition, the Rep is hoping to perform a scene from Frank McGuinness’s “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme,” a 1986 play often produced in England and Ireland, but yet to be seen on this side of the Atlantic.
“The evening will be celebratory in nature, at the same time trying to demonstrate the diversity of the people in the North, and the ways in which their variety tends to reflect their differences, even as they move along the road leading to lasting peace,” O’Reilly said.
As usual, the performance part of the Rep’s benefit will be followed by a gala dinner at Sardi’s Restaurant on West 44th Street.