Here, via email, we hear from playwright-composer Larry Kirwan, whose Stephen Foster musical Hard Times is currently playing a limited engagement at Off-Broadway's the cell; visit www.thecelltheatre.org. He has also written the score for the new musical Transport, featuring a book by Thomas Keneally, which will play the Irish Repertory Theatre beginning Feb. 7.
What show recently impressed you?
Juno and the Paycock by Sean O'Casey at The Irish Repertory Theatre. I was raised on O'Casey but wondered if the play might not have gone a bit creaky. It speaks of a very different time when idealism was part of the practical currency of life, and yet there were all Sean's flawed and small characters strutting their majestic stuff in a topical, passionate and pulsing revival. Miss it at your peril.
What production are you most excited to see?
At the risk of sounding like an Irish chauvinist, I'm curious to see The Night Alive by Conor McPherson at the Atlantic. He never fails to surprise me. There's a rare spirit that runs through all his work — sometimes foreboding but often oddly joyful. The great playwrights give you a glimpse of the soul, and McPherson in 90 minutes can show you what's actually happening in Ireland better than if you were to take a three-month visit.
Which artist would you most like to write a play for and why?
Oh, Mark Rylance, hands down! Not only is he a consummate actor but a powerful artist. I'm not sure what the hell I'd write, but I'd come up with something. I have a feeling he'd make a great Brendan Behan. Maybe that's a starting point.
What are your current/upcoming projects?
Hard Times, my musical about Stephen Foster set during the 1863 NYC Draft Riots, runs through Feb. 2 at the cell theatre on 23rd Street. It was a dream come true to re-imagine the music of this neglected genius and delve into his complicated psyche at a watershed moment in American history. Transport, my collaboration with Thomas Keneally, opens at the Irish Rep in February. It tells the story of four Irish convict women being transported to Australia in 1842 aboard a small British vessel. Apart from writing the music and lyrics, it was an opportunity to see if a new hybrid could be created out of Celtic Music and Broadway show tunes. I have a straight political drama, Rebel in the Soul, ready to go as soon as this musical madness settles down.