Playwright Derek Murphy grew up in Ballyfermot and now lives on Staten Island.
By Peter McDermott
“Radio is the future for the theatre.” That’s according to playwright Derek Murphy.
These days drama has few enough options, but the Dubliner believes that a revival of the radio format had been overdue anyway.
Murphy’s own fun contribution, “Dial M for Mammy,” is broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM and can also be heard on YouTube.
He started with one experimental episode back when the lockdown began. “Before you knew it, I was doing one every week and now we’re up to episode 21,” he said.
“You can dip in anywhere” is Murphy’s advice for new listeners.
It’s about a fictitious woman in Ballyfermot and her son in New York; it should be pointed out that the playwright’s mother lives in that neighborhood and he has long resided in the Big Apple.
Murphy can see “little facets” of his real-life parent finding their way into the 7-minute episodes of “Dial M for Mammy,” like her monetary devotion to St. Anthony or her comments about neighbors’ underwear on the clothes line (“What’s she doing wearing them?”).
The “Dial M for Mammy” author has had several productions in Origin’s 1st Irish Festival in New York — such as “A Short Wake,” “Appendage,” “Dyin’ For It” and “Inside Danny’s Box” — and has developed his work in forums in the city such as Artists without Walls and the Irish American Writers and Artists. But he’s felt a transatlantic love develop with a new community, one based in his home neighborhood of Ballyfermot. Although Murphy has had work produced in Ireland and was scheduled to have been in Dublin about now for a production of “Dyin’ For It” at the Smock Alley Theatre (postponed until the spring), his work on “Dial M for Mammy” has forged close bonds with the people at Basement Productions.
“I love hearing those voices. They just made the work richer for me,” he said. “I want to write more for that type of voice.”
Now Murphy, two other writers and the actors are working towards a Ballyfermot-set soap opera for October in the tradition of “The Kennedys of Castleross,” which ran on Raidió Éireann from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s. He’s been asked, too, to write something for outdoors involving social distancing. “We’re looking for new areas to explore and express ourselves in,” he said.
Meantime the cast for “Dial M for Mammy” keeps expanding. For instance, there’s the daughter, Dymphna, who is “not dissimilar” to one of Murphy’s own three sisters.
“I write it on a Wednesday, They record it on a Thursday. They put it up on YouTube on a Sunday and it’s on Dublin City FM every Wednesday morning,” Murphy said. “And then my own mother calls me every Monday morning to comment on it.”
“What am I doing this week?” she asks him.
Actually the fictional mammy is described by her creator as pushy, domineering and possibly suffering from dementia. To the horror and outrage of her New York-based son, Norman, she commits to marrying a man who has recently completed a 20-year prison sentence for the murder of his first wife.
“If it’s not dark, it’s not funny,” is the playwright’s philosophy. And we need a laugh in these times, he believes, and love, too. “It’s all about the mammy looking for love,” Murphy said.
“I probably would have stopped doing it but she likes it so much,” he said of his own mother, “and looks forward to the next one.” And when she doesn’t anymore, he added, “I’ll hang up the pen.”
Murphy is married to an Italian American and lives on Staten Island with their two children.
“I’d figured I’d finally meet someone who could cook. But it wasn’t the case,” he said. “I thought my mother was the worst cook in the world. It turns out it’s my wife.
“My mother had two pots,” he remembered. “The pot for boiling and the pot for frying. That was it.”
Life was looking good for Murphy just before lockdown. His wife was about to start taking cooking lessons, which the family had been begging her to do for years. The children had agreed to move out and get their own places. And he had two plays scheduled for production.
“Now since the pandemic, I’m back to cooking every meal,” he said. “And the kids refuse to leave.
“On a serious note, the thing I miss most in this new world of ours is the rehearsal process,” Murphy said. “I miss being in a room with a director and actors. I miss that sense of fulfillment and exploration that only a good rehearsal can give.”
“Dial M for Mammy” is made by Basement Productions in Ballyfermot and everyone involved is from there, including the writer Derek Murphy. Brenda Mitchell is Mammy; David Spain is Norman, the son; Adrienne Maguire is Dymphna; Emma Faye is Nancy Balls; Billy Mangan, who directs, is Jimmy Balls; and sound engineering is by Christopher McMahon. Episodes can be heard on 103.2 Dublin City FM and on YouTube.