Joseph Hurley, who died last month, reviewed plays for the Irish Echo for 20 years until his retirement in 2012.
JOSEPH HURLEY: AN APPRECIATION
By Kate Shea Kennon
Positive psychology encourages us to express gratitude. Doing so can improve health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Composing a gratitude letter, for example, can give a feeling of well-being to the initiator for up to a month. Regardless of what may be in it for me however, I owe a letter of gratitude to Irish Echo theater writer Joseph Hurley, a friend and mentor, who passed away on April 16. It is overdue.
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I regret not getting to know you sooner, Joe. We became friends shortly before your retirement from the Irish Echo in 2012. Since then, I have grown to realize that you were a renaissance man. You told stories about your years in the U. S. Air Force and writing for television: “Discovery” and “The Week That Was.” You were rightly proud of your weekly radio shows on Friday nights on New York City’s iconic WBAI. On 99.5 on the FM dial on Friday drive time, “The Screening Room” contained not only movie reviews, but rich background information on the writers, directors and actors. “The best movie critic out there” one admirer wrote to the station. You also hosted the “Theater Report” on WBAI which made you well-known among the New York theater audiences. Your radio shows explored the arts and culture life in the city and are now catalogued in the New York Public Library archives: your interview with the wonderful Donald Moffatt who was in “Titus Andronicus” in 1989’s New York Shakespeare Festival is truly worthy of preservation.
But I knew you best for your Irish Echo theater reviews and that was where your heart was. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in the early 1930s your spirit was with Ireland and its arts. I was your happy companion at many Irish theater shows because I had an infant blog on Irish stage when we first met, and you were generous with your time and your knowledge. You entertained me with stories about Jason Robards in Brian Friel’s “Molly Sweeney”: he was a little too close to the character in his offstage persona, and you reminded me of the continued relevance of Eugene O’Neill, a playwright I tended to catalog in the overwrought and overlong category. Professor John Harrington describes you in his introduction for the book “Irish Theater in America: Essays on Irish Theatrical Diaspora” as a champion for Irish theatre, an enthusiast for the masterworks of Brian Friel and the next generation pioneers, citing Mark O’Rowe and Enda Walsh as examples. I completely agree.
Actor and Origin Theatre Artistic Director George Heslin has firsthand knowledge of your expertise, being the subject of one of your theater reviews for Enda Walsh’s U.S. debut in 2011. Enda Walsh would go on quickly to Oscar and Tony award-winning work, and you recognized early the playwright’s potential in your review. You also applauded George Heslin’s style and insight in this early monologue play by Walsh. In turn, George, contacted for this appreciation, returns the admiration: “Joe Hurley was a journalist that totally understood the craft of acting, the relationship needed between the actor and director. Joe’s detailed reviews left the reader inspired to attend every performance. He will be greatly missed.”
Yes, you are missed by the Irish theater audience in New York. We are grateful for the time we had with you.