“There was no plan,” Marina Carr says of her career.
PHOTO BY YOUSEF KHANFAR
By Orla O’Sullivan
Marina Carr’s peaceful presence is at odds with the fury unleashed in “Woman and Scarecrow,” her play now on at the Irish Repertory Theatre in which death does not go gently into that good night.
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Young beyond her years, Carr has a serene symmetrical face, an easy unassuming manner, and a breathy, low-pitched voice that would be perfect for guided meditations—in the unlikely event that she needs to switch from writing plays to producing meditation apps.
Regarded as Ireland’s most successful female playwright, Carr has more than 20 plays to her credit and a dozen critically acclaimed awards, including the $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize awarded her by Yale University last year. She even wrote an oratorio under commission from Wicklow County Council a few years ago.
Carr’s work has traveled to many countries, most recently to Brazil in a Portuguese translation of “By the Bog of Cats,” a very early work but still one of her best known. She describes the 20-year-old play as “loosely based on ‘Medea’ and set in County Offaly.”
That’s where Carr is from—“outside Tullamore”—as she said. She is not familiar with Bronx native John Patrick Shanley’s Broadway play, “Outside Mullingar,” which was inspired by how outlandish his Irish relatives seemed.
“Irish culture is in ways a difficult culture,” she suggested. “I do think we’re a very spiritual nation, a nation of singers and poets.”
Carr certainly comes from such a family. Her musical father, Hugh Carr, had several plays produced by Dublin’s main theatres; her mother Maura Eibhlín Breathneach, who died when Carr was a child, was an Irish-language poet; her brother, John, is a painter and her sister, Deirdre, a writer. Growing up in Pallas Lake, the Carr children produced plays on a stage made of turf.
In adulthood, Marina’s early plays would make it to the national stage. Ireland’s Abbey Theatre first produced her back in 1991.
It was lack of female representation at the Abbey that prompted Waking the Feminists, but, asked about the movement, Carr noted, “The Abbey has always been very good to me.”
Pamela J. Gray and Stephanie Roth Haberle in “Woman and Scarecrow,”
currently at the Irish Repertory Theatre. PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG
She was similarly blessed when she spent time in the U.S. between her degree (in English and philosophy at UCD) and a planned masters. A Saturday job landed her an inexpensive apartment over the restaurant—on Madison Avenue “I just thought everybody who comes to New York lives on Madison Avenue,” she recalled, smiling.
Carr has lectured at Princeton and Villanova, and her plays have been on stage at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre and in Chicago, but this is the first time her work has been produced in a high-profile New York theatre.
“I was here last September and Ciarán [O’Reilly] said, ‘I’ve always been looking for an opportunity to put on your work.”
After seeing the downstairs theatre Carr thought the intimate space ideal for “Woman and Scarecrow”.
“He said, ‘Of all your plays, I’m not really crazy about that one,’” she recalled with a smile, adding, “He re-read it, loved it, and bought the rights immediately.”
The play, which runs to June 24, was first produced at London’s Royal Court theatre with the Irish actor Fiona Shaw in 2006.
A woman dying suddenly in mid-life reassesses her existence and parts from those closest to her with harsh recriminations, including secrets long held for maximum incendiary effect.
Asked if there has been an evolution in her themes over the decades, Carr said, “No, it’s all the one play the longer you go on, men and women, love and death. What else is there when all is said and done?”
And for all her success, she said, “There was no plan.”
Her future plan, similarly, is “to keep writing.” That’s sometimes a challenge notes the mother of four and lecturer in creative writing at Dublin City University.
Carr seems to have an impressively full life outside her professional existence. Before we meet she was phoning her youngest daughter after her piano exam. Afterwards, she’s expecting a friend flying in from Ireland with whom she’ll visit a restaurant where another friend’s daughter works.
“Ours is a very busy house at the moment, with a son doing the Leaving Cert, school runs, dinner, music lessons,” said Carr, whose husband Dermot Hickey is a social worker. “And writing. You can’t rush it. It’s not like you’re just adding up figures.”