Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Joe Dowling
The American theatre community knows Joe Dowling as a director, and artistic director of Minnesota's Guthrie Theatre.
Joe Dowling
Joe Dowling Photo by Ann Marsden

But the denizens of the Ould Sod remember when young Joey Dowling was an actor, treading the boards at the Gate and Abbey Theatres. Between this and that, it's been 20 years since Dowling has stepped in front of an audience. But he's ending that dry patch this fall when he takes the starring role in a play by an old Irish friend of his, playwright Brian Friel. The play is The Faith Healer, and actor Dowling will be in the good hands of an experienced director: Joe Dowling. The newly reborn thespian talked to about his return to the limelight. This is your first time on stage in 20 years?
Joe Dowling: That's exactly right. I actually did take over some part when somebody got sick once in the Guthrie Lab. But I haven't been on stage since I played Peer Gynt on stage at the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1988. Over those two decades, have you missed acting at all?
JD: Very much, yes. I started as an actor and assumed I would be an actor for the rest of my life. But then I started to direct and things changed. And once I came here, and started to act as a director and artistic director, it became much more difficult to actually find the right time or right piece to go back on stage with. And this just felt right. Had you acted in Brian Friel plays in Ireland?
JD: Many, many years ago, I did, in a couple of plays. But I've directed a large number of them. When did you first meet Brian Friel?
JD: I first met him in 1977, when I was asked to direct a play of his called Living Quarters at the Abbey Theatre. I worked quite a lot with him in the late '70s and early '80s. And I've done a lot of his plays since then. Have you been talking with him about this particular part?
JD: Well, I directed this particular play a number of times with the late Donal McCann. It's a play I know very well. I haven't done it in quite a bit. I did a production of it in Dublin shortly after the play had been done on Broadway with James Mason. We did it with Donal there and it was a big success. We took it to the Royal Court and then to the Long Wharf in the early '90s. So I have a history with the play. So when I thought about doing it myself, I wrote to Brian and said, "Am I crazy?" And he wrote back a beautiful letter saying, "Yes, of course, do it, you know the character so well." You didn't happen to see the recent production on Broadway with Ralph Fiennes, did you?
JD: No, I didn't. I have such a history with the play and Donal McCann was such a special actor for me. In my own head, he'll always be The Faith Healer. If you enjoy this, will you be intermingling the acting and directing more often?
JD: We'll see. "I don't know," is the honest answer to that. Let's take it one step at a time is my attitude to this.

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