In America, St. Patrick's Day is usually celebrated with a pint (or several) of booze, and being even just a smidge Irish gives one license to try to drink his mates under the table.
But The Playhouse Theatre is using the holiday as an excuse to explore the Emerald Isle via its playwrights. The company opens "The Irish Repertory," featuring Conor McPherson's Shining City and Mark O'Rowe's Howie the Rookie.
Shining City is a play Playhouse's artistic director, Chris Crawford, "fell in love with" a few years ago after seeing it on Broadway in New York, said Courtneay Sanders, associate artistic director.
"When I left the show, I just stood out on the streets of New York and walked around for, literally, hours afterward," exploring the play's depth and dimension.
"It's beautifully written," she said. "We wanted to do it before anyone else grabbed it."
Aside from both being "talky," as Sanders describes, the two plays, though they hail from the same country, are very different. And yet, they explore some similar themes.
"The inner turmoil of these people is the action of the plays," Sanders said.
Shining City is about Ian (Crawford), a priest-turned-psychiatrist, who, as he's unpacking his office, is visited by his very first patient, John (Cody Daigle). John is haunted by visions of his dead wife. He sees her sopping wet, wearing a red coat he bought for her, and screaming. The visions are so powerful, they've forced him out of his home, and he seeks help from Ian.
Brittany Wilson plays Neasa, Ian's girlfriend and the mother of his child, and Jonathan Schraeder plays Laurence, a derelict priest.
"It's Ian's story, but John is the one telling it," Sanders said. "You see John's story manifesting in Ian's life.
"At the beginning, Ian seemingly has it all together, and John is seeing the ghost of his dead wife. By the end of the play, you have a completely different perspective. It's almost like they switched places."
"It is so well written, and you just listen to it and you think, 'Oh my gosh, I get that. I've been there,'" Crawford said. "Even if you're not there now, you've been there."
Shawn Irish designed the set for Shining City, which plays at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Charles E. Norman Theater Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, at 7:30pm.
In the same theater this weekend, Playhouse will also produce Howie the Rookie, a two-man show whose actors never interact with one another on stage.
The play is performed in two acts, with each act consisting of a 45-minute monologue performed by one of two characters: Howie Lee (Cody Shelton) and Rookie Lee (Seth Harman).
Their identical surnames are a coincidence. The Howie and The Rookie aren't brothers, but they share as close a bond as brothers do; they just don't know it yet.
"I love the message of peace," Crawford said. (The play is about) brotherhood and friendship coming from most unlikely of places and unlikely of people. These are two guys with the same last name, but they're enemies. They hate each other for different reasons.
"Some tragic things happen to both of them, and they end up having to lean on one each other. It's a story of brotherhood, about finding salvation -- not spiritual salvation like we think of it, but personal salvation -- in the most unlikely of places."
The two men are essentially telling the same story from different perspectives, Crawford said. In Howie's version, Rookie has given his friend scabies, and Howie is planning a violent revenge.
When it's his turn to speak, The Rookie explains that he is on the run from a gangster named Ladyboy, whom he owes money.
Crawford performed the role of The Rookie while in graduate school at the University of Arkansas.
"Both guys are on this journey to find goodness," Crawford said. "Both want to be good guys, but they don't know how. Howie knows it at the beginning, while Rookie has to figure it out and figure out what goodness is."
Crawford said Howie the Rookie is different from Shining City in that it's more a "theatrical event," as opposed to a traditional play.
"The characters are reliving the events of these two nights through both of their points of view," Crawford said. "Once they make the choice to relive these things for the audience -- because the audience plays a part in this show; they're there talking to the audience, telling these stories -- it becomes this theatrical event."
Crawford said the actors' movement must convey the emotion they feel when reliving their stories.
"I wanted it to be more than just these two guys telling a story," Crawford said. "The overarching question over the show is why this is even happening. When we went into rehearsals, I asked (the actors), 'Why are we here? 'Why are we telling these stories?'
We decided, between the three of us, that this evening, this place wherever we are, this nowhere, is the place of Howie's judgment, and he's having to atone for his life. But he gets to the end of his act and he can't. He just doesn't have it in him. So The Rookie has to take over. The Rookie has to atone for The Howie. In the overarch of the show, you have The Rookie vouching for The Howie."
Both Crawford and Sanders recognize that these plays aren't something Playhouse audiences are used to seeing on the company's stage.
"For us, it's just another way of showing something else that we can do," Sanders said. "It gives us another dimension. And so we're really excited. Playhouse has not produced anything like these two shows. It's the kind of work Chris and I really love to do and have not had the opportunity to do with Playhouse. So we're taking that opportunity, and we're really excited about it."
Howie the Rookie plays at the Tulsa PAC's Norman Theatre Thursday, March 17 at 7:30pm and Saturday, March 19 at 2pm. Tickets and other information are available at tulsapac.com.
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