By Eileen Murphy
The Irish Repertory Theater held its annual benefit Monday night, and as usual, it was an innovative, exciting and really fun affair. The theme was peace, and Rep directors Ciaran O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore put together a wonderful program of songs, stories, poetry and plays that reflected Irish history down through the years. Against the backdrop of an historic peace agreement in Ireland, and with peacemakers John Hume and George Mitchell in the audience, the evening had a special resonance for everyone in the theater.
Actors Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson hosted the event, which included Richardson’s mother, Vanessa Redgrave, Tommy Makem, Tate Donovan, Tony nominee Brian F. O’Byrne, Eric Stoltz, Frank McCourt, Milo O’Shea and Ciaran O’Reilly.
Neeson, who’s appearing on Broadway in “The Judas Kiss,” ditched his prepared speech and recited a passage from Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis.” Then Richardson read a poem, and then introduced her mother. To Neeson’s apparent mortification, Redgrave invited the audience to join her in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for her son-in-law. From our vantage point, high in a first level box seat, we could see Neeson blush and mouth what seemed to be a very bad word. And on his birthday yet.
The evening was a grand affair of song and story, with Makem introducing a song written for the occasion, “Peace and Hope.” There were snippets from the works of O’Casey, Yeats, Emmet and Pearse; quotes from Collins, Churchill and De Valera. John Hume was called up to the stage to sing Phil Coulter’s “The Town I Loved So Well.” Aside from the emotional impact, Hume also has quite a good singing voice. And if the peace process goes according to plan, who knows what kind of second career he could have . . .
Former U.S. Sen. Mitchell was also called up the stage, where he paid tribute to Hume and all the people who had worked toward a resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict. He introduced his wife, Heather, and recalled that when they got married a few years ago, he had promised to give up public service. “A few months later, I was off to Northern Ireland,” he noted dryly. The Mitchells saw one another infrequently during the peace negotiations, “but she was a good sport about it,” he said affectionately.
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Artist LeRoy Neiman, who donated a signed print to the Rep’s intermission raffle, came up onstage to draw the winning ticket. Since it was his birthday, too, he was serenaded with a chorus of “HB,” as raffle MC Frank McCourt cackled wickedly. McCourt also got huge laughs in noting that while the grand prize included two round-trip tickets to Ireland (courtesy of Aer Lingus) and a week’s car rental (courtesy Dan Dooley), there were only two night accommodation in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel. “Well, you can spend the rest of the time in the back of the car,” he deadpanned, then dissolved into laughter. The Merrion rep stood up and increased the prize to five nights, to the audience’s delight. (Unfortunately, we did not win.)
After the show, there was a party at the famed theatrical watering hole, Sardi’s. Former Gov. Hugh Carey obliged the New York press by posing with Sen. Mitchell and John Hume, while in another corner, Eunice Kennedy chatted amiably with Loretta Brennan Glucksman. Actress Frances Sternhagen looked very bohemian in a long red skirt and white blouse, and Garry Hynes, fresh from her Tony win, breezed in to extend her best wishes.
Caught up with Tate Donovan upstairs at the cast table. Silently commanding our knees to stay straight as he flashed the grin that knocked the socks off his former girlfriends Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Aniston, we asked about his musical talents – he had sung the Waterboy’s classic “When Will We Be Married?”
“I’ve played the fiddle for years,” he told us (steady, knees!) “and I’ve been singing for years, too.” A bashful grin. “But, I’ve never sung that song before in public!” More grinning. (We’re warning you, knees!) “I sing much better than I did tonight.” Mmm-hmm.
With the midnight hour drawing nigh, and visions of Tuesday deadlines dancing in our head, we decided to tear ourself away from the party. In the cab, the radio played some naughty song by The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. When it was over, the DJ purred, “That was dedicated to Prince, ’cause it’s his birthday.”
Him. And LeRoy. And Liam. The evening had come full circle.
‘Beauty Queen’ wins big at Tonys
Well, you can uncross your fingers now. To nobody’s great surprise, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” was almost a clean sweep at this week’s Tony Awards Show, taking home four out a possible five knicknacks.
The Irish import, which has won raves from critics and introduced American audiences to the peculiar joys of Complan, was recognized for having the best director of a play, Garry Hynes, best actress, Marie Mullen, best featured actress, Anna Manahan, and best featured actor, Tom Murphy. It lost out only in the best play category, where it was edged out by Brit import “Art.”
The “Beauty” winners kept their acceptance speeches short and touching. Garry Hynes, who was the first woman to win a Tony for directing – an honor she shared that night with “Lion King” director Julie Traynor – paid tribute to the Druid Theater Company in Galway, and to her parents: “This one’s for you,” she said, hoisting the award above her head.
Anna Manahan, who plays the annoying, irascible mother in the play, was charming and seemed near tears. “I want to thank all those who lighted candles for me,” she said. Thanking the Tony committee and voters, she added, “There will be bonfires lit back in Galway tonight.” Which, we assume, is a good thing.
Marie Mullan seemed dazed by her win as best actress. “Thank you,” she stammered sweetly, her hand fluttering at her throat. “Thank you very much.”
Of course, the funniest moment of the night came when Tom Murphy got up to accept his award. The twentysomething actor must have forgotten that he was on national television – or perhaps he was just soooo excited by the honor. After thanking the usual suspects, he paid tribute to playwright Martin McDonagh. To the delight of the CBS censors, Murphy declared that McDonagh had written “a great [very bad word] play.”
It was too bad that the two men in the show, Murphy and Brian F. O’Byrne, were nominated in the same category. Both deserved the award, particularly since their parts are so different – Murphy’s character is the comic relief, while O’Byrne is touching and terrific as the love interest. And though the play failed to win an award for Martin McDonagh, let’s put it in perspective: it must be pretty [very bad word] good if it won all those other awards.
By the way, we weren’t sure what to make of the Tony broadcast as a whole. Host Rosie O’Donnell did her schtick – which is already becoming painfully familiar – warbling a specially altered version of the Chicago number “Roxie.” In an unflatteringly flat hairdo and dark makeup, she ambled around the stage with a bunch of chorus boys, introducing Broadway divas. Patty LuPone sang a snippet of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” from “Evita.” A slimmed-down Jennifer Holliday belted the chorus of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” from “Dreamgirls,” followed by Betty Buckley hitting all the right notes in “Memory” from “Cats.”
Since opinion polls dictated that Rosie take a more visible role in this year’s show, she popped up often to tell some funny jokes: “Times Square really is cleaned up. On the way to the show, I passed four hookers dressed up like Teletubbies!”
She also poked fun at herself. O’Donnell said that her outfit (embroidered blue satin jacket and black skirt) was an example of “the ‘Titanic’ look” Referring to her ample bustline, she noted that “these can be used as flotation devices.” She also noted that she had “more tape and wire [on her chest] than Linda Tripp.” Whatever. All we know is, Rosie should never let anyone talk her into wearing an A-line jacket over an A-line skirt. That wouldn’t be flattering on anyone, except maybe Kate Moss. Really – we know whereof we speak.
We’d love to dish the rest of the show with you. But we were far from the city last Sunday night, and wound up watching on a CBS affiliate station. As in, not a civilized New York channel where they leave awards shows on until they actually finish, thank you, even if Martians are landing in Central Park and inviting the mayor to tea. The boneheads in the boonies cut the show off at 11 p.m., possibly so we could go to our exciting local news. For, like, crop reports or something. Sheesh. Yeah, yeah . . .you can take the girl outta New York . . .
The Guinness Fleadh Ticket Giveaway
Well, you gave it your best shot. You answered all the questions, you cut the form out of the paper, you stuck it in an envelope and you lovingly placed it in a mailbox. Or maybe you entered online via our website, during one of your internet surfin’ safaris. Or you faxed it. Whatever.
You said your prayers, you crossed your fingers, and now comes the moment of truth . . .
The winners for Weeks 2 and 3 are: