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Toibin to appear in a one-man show at theArts Center

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

"Ballykissangel," the hit television series which has occupied actor Niall Toibin for the last six years, premiered its sixth season on British TV on March 1, freeing the versatile comedian for a brief New York season, starting tonight at the Irish Arts Center on West 51st Street and continuing through the 24th.

"An Evening with Niall Toibín" is the one-man show the veteran comic has touring Ireland and other venues for the last several seasons, when his TV schedule permitted.

It’s just 90 minutes of jokes, political observations, that sort of thing," he said shortly after he arrived in New York. "In the last few weeks and months, I’ve played in Letterkenny, Donegal, Kilkenny, Mullingar, Limerick, Galway, Tralee, Ennis, Cork and Sligo, places like that."

Does he plan to alter the show for his stand at the Irish Arts Center? "Not really, he said, "since I imagine the audiences there will be about 78 percent Irish anyhow."

As for Father Mac, more formally, Father Frank MacAnally, the parish priest he’s played on "Ballykissangel" since 1993, he thinks he’ll be around for a while, without too many major changes.

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"He’s still the same fellow he always was," Toibín said."There are hints that he was a bit of a radical in his early days, and something of a thorn in the side of the church authorities, which explains why the moved him to a simple country parish." Why they’ve left him there is, perhaps, another story.

"I don’t think he’s become particularly liberalized over the years," Toibín admitted, "except that he’s confronted a couple who wanted a divorce. He was sympathetic, but the issue was out of his hands, obviously.

One of the reasons the actor said he thinks Father Mac may have had liberal inclinations in his youth is contained in a segment in which he’s visited by a black priest from an unspecified African country.

"He’d been posted to Ireland earlier in his life as a priest and assigned to Father Mac," Toibín said. "There’s got to have been a reason."

The actor claims he’d never tried to influence the shaping of his character, except once in a while to ask for rewrites when he thinks improvements might be in order. "There was a dip in the quality of the writing a couple of years ago, but the situation has improved since we called in Kieran Prendiville, the original writer," he said. "He’s from Kerry originally, but has lived in London for a long time, but he came back for this season and was involved in all but one of the shows."

As for Father Mac’s future on "Ballykissangel," Toibín adopts a philosophical tone. "He had a slight heart attack at one point and I took that as a kind of a warning that he might be written out sometime," he said. "But people tell me the character has mellowed a bit, and maybe he has, but to my mind, he’s still fairly traditional, but, as always, sly as a fox. And make no mistake, he’s a priest who follows the church line."

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