By Margaret M. Johnson
For just a little longer than the time it takes to drive to New England or Pennsylvania for autumn leaf-peeping, you can fly to Ireland for a colorful off-season getaway with tourist crowds down and local events in high gear. You can get to Shannon from New York in about six hours (add 30 minutes more for Dublin), so even a long weekend on the emerald isle isn’t out of the question. The only real problem is deciding where to spend it.
After more than a dozen visits, five of them off-season, I have to admit to a certain bias for Dublin. Year-round, it’s a perfect destination, but in October, when the Dublin Theatre Festival is on (Oct. 5-17), a visit then is a bonus. An Irish friend once told me that Dublin was what Shakespeare had in mind when he said "all the world’s a stage," because virtually all of Dublin’s famous theaters (the Abbey, Peacock, Olympic, Gaiety, Tivoli, and Gate), performance spaces, public squares, even its streets are transformed into stages for the annual event. There’s also a "Fringe Festival" dedicated to presenting the world’s funkiest theater, and a Children’s Season at the Ark.
Dubliners pull out all the stops for this city-wide fling that showcases Irish and international classics as well as new plays by contemporary playwrights. Last year, festival audiences gave raves to newcomer Martin McDonagh, whose "Leenane Trilogy," one of the biggest new writing projects ever undertaken in Ireland, was one of the festival highlights. First it was Dublin, then Broadway for McDonagh’s first play of the trilogy, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," which won five Tony Awards this season and is still running at the Walter Kerr Theater.
So if theater’s on our mind, you won’t be disappointed by this year’s lineup either, which includes five world premieres: Paul Mercier’s "Native City," the third play in his Dublin Trilogy at the Tivoli Theatre; Marina Carr’s "By The Bog of Cats" at the Abbey; Michael Harding’s "Amazing Grace," with a cast from The National Theatre Society of Ireland, at the Peacock; Brian Friel’s new version of Anton Chekhov’s "Uncle Vanya" at the Gate, and "Diamonds in the Soil," a theatrical version of the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh from the Galway-based Macnas troupe at the Olympia. Fans of "Ballykissangel" can even catch Niall Toibín in his long-awaited return to the Irish stage in the Red Kettle Company’s "The Salvage Shop" at the Gaiety.
There’s also an international line-up at the festival including the acrobatic troupe of "Circus Ethiopia," the circus/dance French troupe of "Chameleon," and the Andalusian Opera Company’s elaborate rendition of "Carmen," complete with a 30-piece pipe and drum band, flamenco dancers, and white stallions.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
Festival Ireland, a division of O’Mara Travel, Dublin 4, has three-night packages available that include bed and breakfast at the 4-star Burlington Hotel on Leeson Street (Oct. 9-12 or Oct. 15-18), at the 3-star Arlington Hotel at O’Connell Bridge (Oct. 9-12), and at the 3-star Camden Court Hotel on Camden Street (Oct. 15-18). The package includes three tickets to productions at the Abbey Theatre, Gate Theatre, and one other major production, airport transfers, and a Heritage City tour on an open-deck bus. Prices range from $295-335 per person sharing. For details or bookings, phone (1) 269-6033, fax (1) 269-6705.
For information on accommodations in the Galway area, phone the Tourist Information Office at (91) 563081, fax (91) 565201. For information on festival events, phone (91) 522066, fax (91) 527282. Ticket prices are from $15-75, depending on event. Many are free.
Wexford for Opera
This longest running (since 1951) and most highbrow social event on the Irish calendar is the Wexford Opera Festival, unique in both concept and content. The three-week/three opera event (Oct. 15 through Nov. 1), described as "the opera lover’s perfect treat," is dedicated exclusively to productions of seldom performed works by international composers. The operas are all staged in Wexford’s tiny 446-seat Theatre Royal, but concerts, lunchtime recitals, choral and orchestral performances are given throughout the city. There’s even an antiques fair, a fringe festival, and the seaside town itself creates a setting that never goes stale no matter how often one visits.
Operas for this season will be Carlos Gomes "Fosca" (first performed in February, 1873), an opera in four acts to a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. It’s sung in Italian, Oct. 15, 18, 21, 24, 27 and 30. Pavel Haas’s "Sariatan" (first performed in April 1938), is a tragic-comic opera in three acts to a libretto by Haas. It’s sung in Czech, Oct. 16, 19, 22, 25, 28 and 31. Riccardo Zandonai’s "I Cavalieri Di Ekubu" (first performed in March 1925), is a drama lirico in four acts to a libretto by Arturo Rossato It’s sung in Italian Oct. 17, 21, 23, 26, 29 and Nov. 1.
Festival Ireland (see details on Dublin theater Festival) also has packages available for Wexford. three-night bed and breakfast packages at the 3-star Whites Hotel, the 3-star Talbot Hotel, or the 3-star Ferrycarrig Hotel (including tickets to three operas and a rental car) range from $520-$640 midweek, $630-700 per person sharing weekends. Accommodations in and around Wexford are difficult to come by on-your-own, but you can take "the Opera Train" from Dublin which runs during the festival. For rail schedule, phone 1 (800) 243-7687.
For festival ticket information, phone (53) 22240, fax (53) 24289. Tickets are priced from $58-73 for operas, $8.50-$17.50 for concerts and recitals.
Cork for Jazz
The Cork Jazz Festival, held during the October Bank Holiday weekend (Oct. 23-26), draws lots of locals and visitors to the city to hear an international line-up of jazz performers. In its 24 seasons, jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Cleo Laine, and Oscar Peterson have performed at what many call "the biggest jazz party in the world." If a mardi gras atmosphere surrounded by goodtime jazz is what you’re after, then head for Cork.
This year’s festival promises to be crammed with sessions featuring the cream of Irish and international jazz performers like Courtney Pine, Joe Henderson, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, and New Yorker Gene Harris. From the Everyman Theatre to the Metropole Hotel to 40 pubs, clubs, and lounges, Cork City hosts non-stop jazz. You can even catch impromptu sessions on The Guinness Gig Rig, an enormous outdoor stage that travels throughout Ireland from festival-to-festival.
Three night bed and breakfast packages at the 4-star Fitzpatrick Silver Springs Hotel, the 3-star Rochestown Park Hotel, or guesthouse/family home accommodations (including tickets to Friday and Saturday night events, 2 dinners, and a rental car) range from $260-$510 per person sharing. For bookings, contact Festival Ireland, (53) 22240, fax (53) 24289.
For information on the festival, phone (21) 278979, fax (21) 270463. Tickets are priced from $10-$15. Many events are free.
Irish weather is an unpredictable affair, but its mild climate (temperatures in autumn are generally in the mid-50s) makes it a perfect destination during its fall festival season.Dublin Festival details
"Amazing Grace," history and contemporary life collide in the world premiere of Michael Harding’s drama, at the Peacock, Oct. 8-10, 12-17.
"Carmen," an Andalusian opera by Salvador Távora, presented by La Cuadra de Sevilla of Spain, at the RDS Shelbourne Hall, Oct. 15-17.
"Giullo Cesare," Italian director Romeo Castellucci examines of the power of rhetoric via Shakespeare’s "Julius C’sar," at the Beckett Centre, Oct. 10-11.
"Uncle Vanya," the 70th anniversary production of Brian Friel’s new version of the Chekhov’s classic, at The Gate, Oct. 5-10, 12-17.
"The Cry of the Chameleon," a fusion of circus and contemporary dance, presented by Anomalie/Josef Nadj of France, at the National Basketball Centre, Tallaght, Oct. 8-12.
"Monster," a darkly hilarious one-man play from the Canadian Theatre Company Da Da Kamera, at the Beckett Centre, Oct. 6-8.
"The Salvage Shop," a heart-warming drama presented by Ireland’s Red Kettle Theatre Company, at the Gaiety, Oct. 13-17.
"The Dublin Trilogy," Paul Mercier’s theatrical journey through the many sides of the city ("Native City," Oct. 13-17; "Buddlela," Oct. 16; "Kitchensink," Oct. 17, and "Trilogy Day," Oct. 18, with performances of all three plays at 1, 4 and 8 p.m.) at the Tivoli.
"Circus Ethiopia," a heart-stopping musical and acrobatic spectacle opens the festival, at the Gaiety, Oct. 4-6.
"Hellcab," the Tamarind Theatre Company’s hilarious look at life in Chicago through the eyes of a cab driver, at the Tivoli, Oct. 6-10.
"70 Hill Lane," Phelim McDermott revisits and reconstructs events from his childhood in myth, fantasy and dream, at the Beckett Centre, Oct. 13-17.
"Stars in the Morning Sky," a powerful drama set in Moscow during the 1980 Summer Olympics, presented by the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, at the Gaiety, Oct. 8-10.
"Shakespeare’s Villains," Steven Berkoff examines some of the bard’s nastiest characters, at the Olympia, Oct. 12-16.
"Diamonds in the Soil," Macnas animates the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh, at the Olympia, Oct. 6-10.
"By the Bog of Cats," a new drama by Irish playwright Marina Carr, at the Abbey, Oct. 5-10, 12-17.
"Tinka’s New Dress," a fable inspired by illegal puppet shows during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, from the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, at Colaiste Mhuire, Oct. 13-17.
For ticket information, phone (1) 677-8439, fax (1) 679-7709. Tickets range from $15-$55.
For information on the Children’s Season, phone (1) 670-7788; for the Fringe Festival, phone (1) 605-6833.