Category: Archive

Reexamined lives

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

?Anam Cara,? which translates, more or less, as ?Dear Friend,? and which comes equipped with a dead-accurate subtitle, ?A Celebration of the Irish Spirit,? is a production of the Hamm & Clove Stage Company, presented in cooperation with Tara Circle, which makes its home at Alder Manor.
Hamm & Clov, which takes its name from the two major characters in Samuel Beckett?s ?Endgame,? is run by actress Holly Villaire, who conceived the idea behind ?Anam Cara? when she heard former New York City Det. Michael Sheahan perform a song he had written, ?Where My Heart Longs to Be,? at a St. Patrick?s Day celebration held in the chapel of St. Barnabas? High School on McLean Avenue in Yonkers.
Villaire produced an earlier version of the event, then called simply ?Anam,? which was given a single performance, on Dec. 1, 2001, at Yonkers? Mark Twain School.
Sheahan and singer-songwriter Dermot Henry, whom Villaire also first encountered at St. Barnabas, were the headliners at last weekend?s shows.
The former detective and the Sligo-born word-spinner are professional performers, but most of the ?Anam Cara? participants are earnest amateurs, collected by Villaire and encouraged to reexamine their experiences as Irish people transplanted to the United States, particularly to the New York area.
Here were recollections and anecdotes, sometimes humorous, but more often poignant, of hard-pressed childhoods in Dublin and Tralee, in Antrim and Sligo and Kerry.
This last-named county seemed particularly present because of the powerful participation of Tony Casey, a sleepy-eyed 37-year-old construction worker now retired due to a severe injury sustained on the worksite, who delivered a moving account of his young days in Listowel, the Kerry town where he was raised by his cherished grandmother, who undertook his care, and that of his sister, when, following the untimely death of their father, his mother immigrated to Chicago.
Listowel is the setting of many of the plays and stories of the late John B. Keane, the beloved writer who was also a publican who lived in rooms above the establishment he owned and operated for so much of his life.
Keane, who died on May 30, 2002, at age 73, figures in Casey?s setpiece, since he describes seeing the writer, two weeks before his passing, being supported by his sons as he moved from place to place, with difficulty and in obvious pain.
Apart from specific references, such as Casey?s mentioning Keane, most of the emotion reflected in the ?Anam Cara? material could as easily or not have been expressed a century and a half ago.
Here are loneliness and a pervasive sense of loss, an unyielding awareness of death and, above all, an insatiable yearning for the Irish life each participating writer, singer, musician or performer left behind on making a westward journey across the Atlantic.
Whether it?s Denise Lyons remembering that, upon preparing for her departure from Tralee, she was told she could take only a single suitcase, or Jimmy Kerr, mourning the time he spent ?on the banks of the Bairn in Toomebridge, Co. Antrim,? the performers? emotional responses are so close to the surface and so readily accessible that at least four of them were quite obviously on the verge of breaking down.
Bernadette Kennedy, born in Westchester County to parents from Ireland, recalled summers spent in County Kerry, while Michael Diggins evoked the memory of Amergin, whom he referred to as ?the first poet in Ireland.?
The Sligo-born Maureen Brady, a retired New York City high school teacher and a founding member of the Connemara Players, quoted from the classic Celtic literature in which she specialized throughout her career in education.
Former Dubliner Una McGillicuddy, who teaches Irish language and Irish history at Tara Circle, lent a supple voice, along with her fellow cast members, to songs ranging from Robbie McConnell?s ?Caledonia? to Alan A. Bell?s ?So Here?s to You.?
The versatile ?Anam Cara? musicians included Ethel Breheny, who played the bodhr

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