Origin tries out new works in May

By Peter McDermott

On Monday evening of last week, the main meeting room at Glucksman Ireland House in Lower Manhattan was packed to hear a play. It wasn't a full production nor even a dress rehearsal, but rather, a reading by actors.

When "Four Last Things" was produced for the Dublin stage last September, it was described by the Irish Independent critic as an "accomplished piece of theatre that hits you right in the solar plexus. The author's writing is lyrical, hard-hitting and tender..."

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The New York audience seemed similarly impressed. Playwright Lisa Tierney-Keogh was also happy. "The setting was so intimate, and I really liked seeing my work in a non-theatre environment," she said afterwards. "The actors and the director did a great job and it was so great to hear life breathed into the play again."

It was the first of the Origin Theatre Company's 6th Annual Mondays of May Reading Series done in conjunction with Glucksman Ireland House. The second, "Crossing the Bar" by Lucy Gough, was staged two nights ago. On next Monday, it's the turn of Conall Quinn's "The Death of Harry Leon" and the last, " The Measurements of a Murderer" by Lucy Tyler, is scheduled for May 24.

Origin's mission is to showcase emerging European playwrights in New York. "In the Mondays of May series we aim to have an Irish, an English, a Scottish and a Welsh play," said Origin's founder and artistic director George Heslin. "This year, though, there are two from Ireland."

The series always features the most recent winner of the Stewart Parker Award for Best Irish Play, which in 2010 is "The Death of Harry Leon."

"It's a way of seeing if a play taps into an American audience," said the Limerick City-born Heslin. He added that Origin has later done full productions of works that had featured in the May series.

The playwright can find the process useful, too. Tierney-Keogh said: "The casual nature of readings always takes the pressure off and allows me as a writer to really listen to the words and see things I might not necessarily see in a full production."

If, however, a play has never been performed in any format before, listening to a reading, she said, can be an "nerve-wracking but really exhilarating" experience.

[Picture: playwright Lisa Tierney-Keogh]