West Cork native Aoife Williamson will appear in Derek Murphy’s Dublin-set play “Dyin’ For It” at the Cell Theatre.
By Peter McDermott
New York-based, Irish-born playwright Derek Murphy has said his latest is a “tragedy hiding inside a comedy,” which he added is a “very Irish trait.”
Murphy, whose work is appearing in a second consecutive 1st Irish Festival, explained where he got the idea for “Dyin’ for It,” which begins at the Cell Theatre next Wednesday: “When I learned, a couple of years ago, that an uncle of mine was to be cremated — don’t worry he’d already died — I asked myself where in that methodically ordered house of his would my no-nonsense aunt put his ashes?”
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Murphy – who once told the Echo that “he was born, raised and persecuted in Dublin, Ballyfermot to be exact, and wouldn’t change it for the world”— said these musings led to his first scene, and the “fierce Kelly women of the play were born.
“As I completed each scene I would take them to IAW&A Salon at the Cell, where some extraordinary actors were brave enough to perform them before an audience,” he recalled. “It was an incredibly nurturing experience, and I owe a great deal of thanks to IAW&A and John Kearns, and to those fine actors who jumped in along the way.”
For this debut run of the completed play, directed by John Keating, “we’ll finally find out what happened to those ashes,” Murphy promised, and the Kelly family.
Meantime, we asked Aoife Williamson, the actor in the production who is newest to the New York scene, about the play and her career.
Irish Echo: Tell us about “Dyin’ For It” and your part in it.
Aoife Williamson: It’s a comedy about an Irish family who are waiting for their father to die. The character I play, Deidre, is a nurse and the seemingly sane one caught between a vengeful one-eyed sister, Bridget, played by Sarah Street, and an alcoholic, frivolous mother, Nancy, played by Maria Deasy. The only other “normal” family member, her brother Paddy, played by Adam Petherbridge, is thousands of miles away because, well, you’ll have to come see it to find out that bit.
It’s interesting for me to play the straight man as I usually veer more towards character roles, but the two ladies are hilarious and it is just a pleasure to counter their wackiness. It can be very hard to keep a straight face in rehearsal, though.
When did you get into acting? Tell us something about your background.
I come from West Cork. I left school at 15 to go to a two-year acting conservatory in Kinsale in West Cork. From there I got into plays in Cork City, then went traveling for about two years. I included acting where I could, doing a commercial in New Zealand and working as extras and minor roles in seven Bollywood productions.
When I got back to Ireland, I moved to Dublin but I found it a bit of a closed shop for new actors and although I did get acting work, I felt a bit stuck. So the shiny lights of New York called me. I applied for the Atlantic Acting School Conservatory course and got it. And off I went! That was four years ago and it’s been a mighty journey since then.
Is there any career standout so far, or some piece that gave you particular satisfaction?
I think a highlight since I’ve been in this city was actually our final school show where I played Philomela, the lead, in “Love of the Nightingale” by Timberlake Wertenbaker. I was in love with the play and so grateful to get to play such a rich, complex character. It was an 18-person cast with a fantastic director, Jessi Hill. It was also such a joy to be performing in a huge professional Off-Broadway Theatre, certainly the biggest theatre I had ever performed in anyway. Yeah, that was far out.
Do you find New York different from other places you’ve worked?
I think what’s so special about New York is its energy. It’s bursting with driven creative professionals. You feel possibility and opportunity. There is just so much going on that it’s hard not to be involved in something. Just riding the subway or walking in the park you might meet a future collaborator. Things happen here.
Tell us about working with the Poor Mouth Theatre Company.
When I moved to the Bronx, I found a very special little bar, An Béal Bocht Café, that really serves as an artistic haven to the community. There is live music most nights of the week, local artist exhibitions on the walls, poetry and comedy nights and – drum roll! – a theatre in the back with its very own theatre company, to boot.
The Poor Mouth Theatre Company opened its arms to me and I’ve been in four of their productions since; two short plays and two pantomimes (I played Hansel in “Hansel & Gretal” and most recently Trumplestilskin, who was a mixture of president Trump and Rumpelstilskin!!?!). I love working with them because it is a comfortable, fun and low-pressure environment. They really just care about giving the audience an experience and that they really do.
“Dyin’ For It” will run at the Cell Theatre, 338 West 23rd St., in Manhattan, from Wednesday, Jan. 17, to Sunday, Jan. 28. For more details go to www.origintheatre.org.