Playwrights and Actors Are of Museum Quality in Dublin

Playwrights and Actors Are of Museum Quality in Dublin Come to New York and you'll find theatre actors and playwrights on numerous stages, and occasionally interviewed on television, but you're unlikely to find statues of them in Planet Hollywood or a drama wing in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. By contrast, central Dublin has two popular museums that pay homage to the legacy of its celebrated theatrical tradition.
Dublin Writers Museum entrance
Dublin Writers Museum entrance (Photo by Photo by Joyce Weil)

Come to New York and you'll find theatre actors and playwrights on numerous stages, and occasionally interviewed on television, but you're unlikely to find statues of them in Planet Hollywood or a drama wing in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. By contrast, central Dublin has two popular museums that pay homage to the legacy of its celebrated theatrical tradition.

On the north side of Parnell Square is an 18th century townhouse converted into the Dublin Writers Museum, paying tribute to such notables as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, G.B. Shaw (considered English by some, but he's Irish-born), John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, Samuel Beckett and others. The museum displays signed first editions of plays and novels, correspondence, biographies, photographs of the writers, and other charming memorabilia. One bit of correspondence has Shaw replying to a lady who asked him to autograph a book as a donation to raise money for charity. "Please do not crush us utterly," she wrote. Shaw expressed regret at "having to crush you utterly," but he made it a rule not to autograph books or manuscripts for any purpose.

Just a block away is the Museum of Wax, with its usual mix of cultural iconography, political figures and television personalities. At these kinds of tourist sites, one expects exhibits spotlighting the Simpsons, President Clinton and Margaret Thatcher, David Bowie and the Flintstones, not to mention a Chamber of Horrors and such local celebs as TV soccer commentators and all the presidents of Ireland standing together in a room.

What may surprise visitors is that no less than three exhibits are devoted to Irish theatre. One features actors Noel Purcell, Maureen Potter and Siobhan McKenna, all posed in a dramatic scene. On the walls behind them are authentic posters of shows at the Gaiety Theatre, including <>Rashomon, Laugh, But Listen Well; Dead Eyed Dicks and Cemented With Love.

One exhibit over shows Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards in a different scene. Behind them are posters for such Gate Theatre shows as Yeats Remembered. The third exhibit shows Yeats himself -- accompanied by Joyce, O'Casey and Shaw, in a small library. Shaw stands with a cane; O'Casey sits, a tam on his head and a Scottish shawl over his legs; Joyce reads with a magnifying glass; and Yeats leans against a bookshelf.

One can only wonder if the Madame Tussauds, due to hit NY's 42nd Street before the millennium, will concoct a similar room, with David Mamet browsing through a slang dictionary, Wendy Wasserstein consulting Miss Manners, Tina Howe gingerly opening a cookbook, Edward Albee reading Dr. Spock, and Neil Simon and Chris Durang sharing a ribald joke. At the very least, they could have Rent's Mimi holding a wax candle.

-- by David Lefkowitz