Donal O'Kelly will perform his award-winning one-man tour de force, Catalpa, at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College on March 5.
Presented by the Irish American Cultural Institute, the one-night only, New York premiere engagement of Catalpaalso benefits that organization. O'Kelly's play debuted in America at the John F. Kennedy Center during last spring's "Arts from Ireland Festival."
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 specifically casts 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."
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.
Some history: The Catalpa arrived in New York on August 19, 1876, with the six Fenian prisoners rescued from England's Western Australia penal colony. According to production notes, "Clan na Gael's John Devoy, with the help of his friend John Boyle O'Reilly, a Fenian who had once escaped from Australia himself, planned the escape. The two arranged to buy and crew a whaler purchased in New Bedford, Massachusetts for the attempt. The Catalpa set out in April 1875 with most of the crew unaware of their actual mission. In March 1876, they reached Australia and soon had the six Fenians safely on board. The British gunboat Georgette overtook the Catalpa the next day and fired a shot across the ship's bow, demanding the prisoners be turned over. Captain George Anthony raised the Stars and Stripes and defied the British to fire on it; they would not. Seeing Anthony would not be intimidated, the Georgette headed back to port."
— By Murdoch McBride