The lavishly praised London production of The Steward of Christendom will make the leap across the pond this month to Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, NY.
Running from Jan. 18 to Feb. 23 at BAM's Majestic Theater, the play by Sebastian Barry will feature a highly acclaimed performance by Irish actor Donal McCann, who has appeared on Broadway in Brian Friel's Wonderful Tennessee and the Gate Theatre's production of Juno and the Paycock.
McCann's performance garnered him a 1996 Olivier Award nomination, placing him in contention with three other actors whose work was seen last year in New York: Michael Gambon in Skylight, Daniel Massey in Taking Sides, and Alex Jennings (who appeared in the RSC Midsummer Night's Dream on Broadway) in Peer Gynt. The Olivier went to Jennings.
Steward is a lyrical account of playwright Barry's great-grandfather, James Dunne, who served as the head of Dublin's Metropolitan Police. Set in 1932 in a mental home, the play is a Lear-like tale - told in flashbacks - about the political and domestic life of Dunne during the final years before Irish independence. Flitting in and out of lucidity, the institutionalized Dunne becomes a man who cannot make sense of things because he cannot make sense of the changed world around him.
The New Yorker's theatre critic John Lahr wrote of Steward: "A great play, like a great punch, is sometimes hard to see coming, but you know when you've been hit. You are rocked to your toes; and long after the event your body carries the memory of that unforeseen power. The name Sebastian Barry is new to me, but it will not be soon forgotten." Steward was originally produced in March 1995 by director Max Stafford-Clark's Out of Joint Theatre Company in association with The Royal Court Theatre, and has since toured extensively. The production went on to win the 1996 London Critics Circle awards for Best New Play and Best Actor. Accompanying McCann at BAM will be the production's original Out of Joint cast: Ali White, Tina Kellegher, Aislin McGuckin, Carl Brennan, Rory Murray, Maggie McCarthy, and Kieran Ahern. The production features sets and costumes by Julian McGowan, lighting by Johanna Town, music by Shaun Davey, and sound design by Paul Arditti.
The arrival of Steward at BAM heralds a mini-influx of Irish plays to U.S. shores: Donal Donnelly is in previews with his one man show about George Bernard Shaw, My Astonishing Self, at Off-Broadway's Irish Repertory Theatre, Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan just debuted in London to raves and is expected to transfer to Broadway in the next year, and Brian Friel's newest, Give Me Your Answer, Do is set to premiere at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in March. If Answer follows the production history of Friel's other recent works - Dancing at Lughnasa, Wonderful Tennessee, and Molly Sweeney - the play will seen in New York shortly. Meanwhile, Barry's new play, Prayers of Sherkin, will be mounted as part of The Peter Hall Company's inaugural season at The Old Vic Theatre in London. Set to debut May 18, Prayers is the story of a young woman drawn to a tiny, fierce island near the west coast of Ireland.
For tickets to Steward at BAM's Majestic Theatre, call Ticketmaster at 212-307-4100 or for more information, call BAM at 718 636-4100.
-- By Andrew Ku