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Stellar night of drama, surprises

Salon presenters included, from left, Leilani McInerney, Aiofe Williamson, Jenifer Margaret Kelly, Rosina Fernhoff, Gordon Gilbert, John Kearns, Sheryl Simler, Analisa Chamberlain, Mark Bulik, Tom Mahon, Katherine McNair, Derek Murphy and Maria Deasy.


By Maureen Hossbacher

It has been a privilege and pleasure to watch the development of Derek Murphy’s play, “Dyin' For It,” at our Irish American Writers & Artists’ Salons. It has also been great fun, as evidenced by the torrent of laughter at The Cell on Tuesday night. The scene was brilliantly played by Maria Deasy and Aoife Williamson as mother and daughter trying their best to grieve for the man of the house who is taking his sweet time dying in the best bedroom upstairs. According to Derek, the play is finished, and we look forward to seeing a full production.

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Plenty of drama and surprises transpired, as the Salon welcomed several new presenters as well as regulars, all of whom electrified a delighted audience. First-timer Katharine McNair started things off with a trilogy of brief scenes from her comedy, “The Traveling Irish,” set in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans, in which actors Sophia Romma and Jason Okanlawan conveyed the fraught romantic relationship between coworkers at a college. A poet and emerging playwright and screenwriter, McNair currently teaches at Fordham University. Her poetry and children's literature have been published online and in print.

Next was the riveting debut performance of Leilani McInerney, who chose our Salon to kickstart her return to the stage after an interlude of child rearing and teaching. Her original monologue, in the character of a slightly unhinged lady with pyromaniacal tendencies, was a gem. (When she lit that match I don’t mind telling you I was a little uneasy). The former Leilani Johnson has performed in regional theatre, in the Fantastiks in New York City and the Amato Opera Company in Brooklyn. As her first name suggests, she was born in Hawaii, a fact which as far as we know Donald Trump has not contested.

Yet another newcomer to the Salon, Sheryl Simler, then took the stage to perform a monologue from her original work, “Inside the Blessing Jar” -- as the character Simca, who has left behind the life of a Hasidic housewife to pursue her artistic dreams. For a finale, Sheryl charmed us with a little ditty she wrote about “John, handsome in his hat.”

John Kearns (hatless) read an excerpt from near the end of his novel in progress, “Worlds.” As Laura and the Englishman Gavin drop off Paul Logan in Times Square, Paul is surprised to learn that Laura's father is from Northern Ireland and that her last name is Maze, like the famous prison. When Paul gets out of the car, he is shocked to hear that Laura is headed back downtown, where they had started hours before, so that Gavin can catch the Staten Island Ferry. "Sorry, Paul," the barmaid says, "if you only had an accent...” John recently returned from Ireland where he didn’t pick up an accent but where his play, “Sons of Molly Maguire,” had a successful run in Dublin.

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Jason Okanlawan and Sophia Romma acted in scenes from Katharine McNair’s “The Traveling Irish,” which is set in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans.[/caption]

As emcee for the evening, Kearns segued by introducing Mark Bulik, a senior editor at the New York Times, who read from the first chapter of his book, “The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America's First Labor War.” Bulik’s book explores the origins of the violent secret society that fought on behalf of Ireland's starving peasantry during the Great Famine, then re-emerged in the Pennsylvania coal fields to battle the all-powerful mining companies, giving America its first taste of class warfare. Dublin Review of Books hailed the history as a "milestone."

Monologist, playwright and poet Gordon Gilbert, a frequent presenter, shared three poems that turned our summertime fancies to thoughts of love in the Big Apple, a metropolis where many a potential couple, alas, have ended up “parallel lines that never met.” That sad fate was not Gordon’s, however, a well known denizen of the West Village, where he has lived and loved, and where he shares his life with Mary Jane, the audience member to whom the final poem was dedicated on her birthday.

Another regular, Tom Mahon, with his usual verve, delivered an excerpt from his short story, “Going After Bigfoot.” Two brothers-in-law pursue Warren Nelson, alias Bigfoot, a 300 lb. muscle-bound vet with four tours in Iraq. Nelson has stolen $25,000 from his father-in-law and there is a reward for his capture. The narrator, who has never held a gun, is skeptical of his brother-in-law’s schemes, though the brother-in-law is confident because he can’t think beyond what he wants. To be continued . . .

Demonstrating what happens when exquisite acting meets exquisite writing, veteran actress Rosina Fernhoff brought the house down with her tour de force rendering of playwright Jenifer Margaret Kelly’s monologue, “Antibodies”, a stand-alone piece from a larger collaborative work entitled “The Body.” Kelly’s play, “My Brooklyn,” was a finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Conference this summer. Fernhoff, an Obie winner, performs frequently at the “Actors Chapel Presents” readings of plays at St. Malachy’s Church on West 49th Street.

The Salon was brought to a lovely close by actress/singer Analisa Chamberlin’s rendition of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, accompanied on guitar by John Kearns. The coda of a perfect evening, it left us wanting more, more, more.

The next IAW&A Salon will be at Bar Thalia, at 95th Street & Broadway, this Thursday, July 6, at 7 p.m.