Martin first read the play 15 years ago, the director told Playbill On-Line Feb. 24. He was teaching at Bennington at the time and was considering the work for his students. It wasn't until he became better known as a successful Off-Broadway and Broadway director that he was secure the rights from McGuinness. By then, he had more than students actors to choose from.
Sons of Ulster centers on a group of Irish Protestant Nationalists who volunteer to fight in Europe in the bloody Battle of the Somme at the opening of World War I. The work is framed as a memory piece, with Richard Easton playing the older version of one of the young fighters, Kenneth Pyper, looking back on his painful experiences as a soldier in 1915-16.
When first directing the play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Martin was unsure as who to cast as the older Pyper. "I thought, what decent actor could I get who can handle a long speech at the start of the play and then doesn't appear for another two hours. And then who should call but Richard Easton. He said, `What do you know? The Invention of Love is closing. Do you have anything I could do this summer?." Easton was cast.
The play's main scenes are titled "Initiation," in which the eight characters meet in the barracks; "Pairing," which takes place during a furlough, after the men have seen action at the front; and "Bonding," set in France before the battle of the Somme, one of the longest, bloodiest and most futile conflicts in military history. Before noon on July 1, the first day of battle, 5,600 of the 7,300 men in the 36th Ulster Division had fallen. Theroux plays young Pyper, the cynical, sarcastic, fatalistic son of a high placed family. Harner is David Craig, who finds an unexpected soul mate in Piper. Wolf is John Millen, a tough-talking youth from a rural district and Dashiell Eaves is his naive, more timid friend. Shamos is fallen priest Christopher Roulston and Fitzgerald is Martin Crawford, a seemingly bloodless pragmatist. Finally, McLaughlan and Gray are George Anderson and Nathaniel McIlwane, the most gung-ho, unthinking fighters of the troop.
Martin helmed productions of Ulster at both the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. Wolf, Theroux, Harner, Fitzgerald, Walker and McLachlan starred in the Williamstown and Beantown productions. Easton starred only in the Williamstown mounting.
Easton has virtually become Lincoln Center's in-house actor. He won a Tony for his work in The Invention of Love. He is also starring in LCT's upcoming production of Henry IV.
Both Wolf and Theroux have enjoyed screen time as well as stage time. Wolf is probably best remembered as Bailey Salinger on the television drama "Party of Five." He also has taken the stage in Side Man on Broadway and Far East and Dead End at Williamstown. Theroux was featured in David Lynch's "Mullholland Drive" and has been seen in The Three Sisters on Broadway.
McGuinness is the author of Someone to Watch Over Me, which had a brief Broadway run a decade or so ago, and the adaptation of Ibsen's A Doll's House, which won a Tony Award for Best Revival.
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