Donal O'Kelly performs his award-winning one-man tour de force, Catalpa, at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College on March 5. This is a one-night-only engagement.
Presented by the Irish American Cultural Institute, the New York premiere performance of Catalpa also benefits that organization. O'Kelly's play debuted in America at the John F. Kennedy Center during last spring's "Arts from Ireland Festival."
As reported, the play features O'Kelly in a broad range of roles. In the show, he re-lives the true story of the whaling ship Catalpa, which sailed to a Freemantle Colony in Australia in 1875 to conduct a daring rescue of six Irish Fenian prisoners.
The award-winning play features O'Kelly as contemporary screenwriter David Kidd, who has botched a recent attempt to pitch the 125-year-old Catalpa story to movie executives. Back home, he "returns to his rooms and begins to act out his unfilmed masterpiece entirely in his own head." As Kidd, O'Kelly assumes such characters as sea captain George Anthony, the captain's wife, Gretta, their daughter, various creatures of the sea and even the ocean itself in what the Times of London described as a "marathon of dazzling, theatrical storytelling."
O'Kelly finds the one-man send up of the Hollywood studio pitch gratifying because it affirms a fundamental truth about theatre: "We're making fun of the movie world," O'Kelly told Playbill On-Line, "but the truth is, you can build far better sets in people's imaginations for nothing than you can do in a movie with the biggest budget." The show was originally produced by the Red Kettle Theatre Company in Waterford and received the Scotsman Fringe First Award at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival. Catalpa also shared a Critics' Prize at the 1997 Melbourne International Festival.
Playwright Kelly's other works include Asylum! Asylum! and The Dogs and Bat, the Father Rabbit, the Son. Tickets are $35. The Kaye Playhouse is located at 695 Park Avenue (on 68 Street between Park and Lexington Avenues). For tickets call (212) 772-4448. For information contact the Irish American Cultural Institute (New York City Chapter) at (212) 969-8378, or visit www.catalpany.com.
— By Murdoch McBride