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‘The Mountains Look Different,’ by Micheál mac Liammóir, The Mint Theater Company

Micheál mac Liammóir, Paul O'Brien, Con Horgan, The Mountains Look Different, Aidan Redmond, Mint Theater Company

(L to R): Paul O’Brien and Con Horgan,’The Mountains Look Different, by Micheál mac Liammóir, directed by Aidan Redmond(Todd Cerveris)

The Mountains Look Different, written by Micheál mac Liammóir, presented by the Mint Theater Company is a profound tour de force whose plot arcs swiftly toward climactic catastrophe. Directed by Aidan Redmond, the play takes place in the beauteous, desolate, wilds of Connemara, Republic of Ireland on St. John’s Eve. On this portentous night, the townsfolk gather to celebrate by lighting bonfires, dancing, singing, drinking and praying for good luck, prosperity and a fruitful life for the coming year. As the events unfold, it becomes apparent that mac Liammóir’s selection of the setting is deeply, thematically ironic.

Into the bucolic, rustic, traditionally Catholic, isolated, agrarian village, where time is entrenched in ancient folkways, and modernization hasn’t yet approached (there is no electricity, running water, modern accoutrements or trending social conventions) Tom Grealish (Jesse Pennington) brings his new bride Bairbre (Brenda Meaney) from London, to introduce her to his father, Martin Grealish and the neighbors. Returning from the fast-paced, cruelly indifferent, big city, the couple seeks the rest and solitude of the farm. They hope that father Martin (Con Horgan) will welcome them for more than a short stay. Indeed, the newlyweds intend to live and make a home with Martin, contributing their efforts to add to the farm’s prosperity.

Jesse Pennington, Brenda Meaney, 'The Mountains Look Different,' Micheál mac Liammóir, Aidan Redmond, Mint Theater Company

Jesse Pennington and Brenda Meaney, ‘The Mountains Look Different,’ by Micheál mac Liammóir, directed by Aidan Redmond, Mint Theater Company (Todd Cerveris)

Prior to the couple’s entrance, Matthew Conroy, Bairbre’s uncle (Paul O’Brien’s fine performance is not submerged by a top-heavy accent) visits Martin, introduces himself and attempts to lay the foundation for a happy union between the families. He spreads good will and extends generosity toward Martin Grealish. A miller, Uncle Conroy promises that Bairbre will inherit his estate after he’s gone as he has no children or other heirs. To reveal his love and concern for Bairbre, Conroy brings her a wedding present which he asks Martin to give to her and encourages Martin to be “good” to her.

Martin is abrupt, surly and inhospitable. To Conroy he bitterly grouses about the “lack of dowry” upon the marriage.  However, when Conroy discusses the promised gift of some money, presently, and the future inheritance landing on Bairbre and Tom, Martin transforms from darkness to light.

With this striking movement in Martin’s characterization, playwright mac Liammóir foreshadows the true nature of the father as a dark, hypocritical and selfish individual. From his gruff, irascible demeanor and grasping manner, we infer that the elder Grealish has little grace, empathy or affability to bestow upon in-laws. When Tom refers to his father’s churlish nature and abusive upbringing during his reunion conversation with Martin in which he boasts that he has achieved status as a solid, married man, Martin derides him. It is as if he hates his own son and finds him a disgusting failure, not that the father has much to commend him as a human being. In prizing money and wealth above love, humanity and forgiveness (this is apparent as the plot unfolds), we understand the “type” of Christianity Martin professes is the type that destroys.

Con Horgan, Brenda Meaney, The Mountains Look Different, Micheál mac Liammóir, Aidan Redmond, Mint Theater Company

Con Horgan, Brenda Meaney, ‘The Mountains Look Different,’ by Micheál mac Liammóir, directed by Aidan Redmond, Mint Theater Company (Todd Cerveris)

Alone on the farm with only the manservant Bartley to help, it is clear that the aging, declining and reclusive, Martin has most probably driven off his other seven children (to the religious life and America). Perhaps he has driven his wife to an earlier death which ironically might be a more pleasant experience than living with Martin. There are no pictures of her; there is only a prominent picture of Jesus and those involved in the Easter rising of 1916. Indeed, Martin could use the assistance of his son and his bride, and like the story of the Prodigal Son in the scripture, he should be thrilled upon Tom’s return. He should put any grievances and negative attitudes he has about Tom behind him and celebrate this change for the better, especially in that the scripture extols a man who gets himself a wife.

The tragic irony is that Martin is not that loving father in the Bible, joyful at his son’s return. He is villainous, arrogant, unloving. Ultimately, he brings about his own devastation in an attempt to gain revenge and obviate his self-hatred of an act he committed nine years before for which he cannot forgive himself. Thus, his Christianity fails him; though in outward form he is staunchly religious and condemning of others. Brilliantly, mac Liammóir has threaded the themes within the characterizations of Martin, Bairbre and Tom. And he has set the events in motion organically with their behaviors that are rooted in emotional, psychological, sociological logic which the principal actors (Pennington, Meaney, Horgan) portray with power.

Tom’s wife Bairbre is the most well-rounded characterization in the play and the most empathetically and tragically drawn. Her destiny is set in “stone” (a feature of the setting symbolically) by the folkways of the time and the hypocritical mores of the social structure. These are manifest in Martin’s attitude toward her and the marriage along with her Uncle’s, Bartley’s (Daniel Marconi) and widowed, ever-praying neighbor Máire’s (Cynthia Mace) attitudes. For example to Martin, she’s as good as a dowry and she is guilty before proven innocent. Martin suspects she’s damaged goods to be with his son. Martin doesn’t even consider giving her the benefit of the doubt or encourage finer behavior; he condemns. Bartley takes liberties in insulting her in front of Tom and Uncle Conroy. Uncle Conroy questions her paleness and asks why she would not stay in London, but would move to the “god-forsaken” place on the farm which portends the grave (a reference made a few times in the play).

Con Horgan, Jesse Pennington, Micheál mac Liammóir, The Mountains Look Different, Aidan Redmond

Con Horgan and Jesse Pennington, ‘The Mountains Look Different,’ by Micheál mac Liammóir, directed by Aidan Redmond (Todd Cerveris)

The hardship of women is a prevalent folkway in this culture and is emphasized throughout the production. It  is revealed later in the play when Máire points out Bairbre looks “weak” and she suggests that the hard life of married women and childbirth may kill her as it killed her daughter, especially that she’s come from a cushier lifestyle. Máire faced the hardship of raising her grandson the deaf Batty Wallace-an excellent Liam Forde.

The other characters (Bridin, Bartley, Uncle Conroy) believe that in comparison to the wonderful life she’s led in London (they can’t fathom why she’s left) she is going to undergo a startling and unnerving “period of adjustment” if she and Tom are able to make their home with the taciturn, negative Martin. Bairbre affirms that the farm is just the right place for her with Tom’s love and Tom at her side to sustain her. Clearly, Bairbre faces an uphill battle in this isolated, lugubrious place, facing off against sour Martin.

As the playwright unfolds Martin’s character (he is the perfect foil and serves as the catalyst and driving force in the conflict with Bairbre) we note that he represents the misogyny, traditionalism and oppressive, abusive behavior that men applied to women whom they considered their underlings and chattel. If women were unmarried and orphaned as Bairbre was until three days prior to their arrival, their opportunities were limited. This was especially so if they lacked an education in a trade or otherwise. Education was very rare for women without money or class status. Oftentimes, women were destined to be servants of the wealthy or handmaids of husbands who were preeminent. Good jobs were difficult to come by, but apparently in London Bairbre has had a decent job to make a living for herself until she meets Tom. Uncle Conroy reads this in her letter to him as Martin listens with disdain.

Jesse Pennington, Brenda Meaney, Cynthia Mace, Liam Forde, Daniel Marconi and McKenna Quigley Harrington, The Mountains Look Different, Micheál mac Liammóir, Aidan Redmond

(L to R): Jesse Pennington, Brenda Meaney, Cynthia Mace, Liam Forde, Daniel Marconi, McKenna Quigley Harrington, ‘The Mountains Look Different,’ by Micheál mac Liammóir, directed by Aidan Redmond (Todd Cerveris)

Tom, the antithesis of his father is sweet, pliant, kind-hearted, innocent, loving. It is no wonder that Bairbre leaps at the chance to be with him, for he exemplifies a man who is a companionable partner and a “helpmeet,” not a dictator or autocrat that land owner Martin obviously is. To Uncle Conroy, Martin proclaims Tom a “stammering slob,” who threw off two arranged marriages (with substantial dowries most probably). Uncle Conroy counters that in these current times, arranged marriages are avoided by the young. He assures Martin that he should give the newlyweds a chance. However, as the characterization shows out, Martin’s mind is inflexible, like a stone mountain.

When Uncle Conroy leaves, goodness and light also leave, along with hope of “the mountains looking different,” a theme of the play. When Bairbre left for London as a sixteen-year-old to escape the mountain’s shadow of desolation in an unpromising life of poverty, she sought her fortune with the promise of youth. When she returns a happy, married women, “the mountains appear different,” because she has changed into a respectable woman with a man by her side. The marriage vows define her and she is subject to no other definition. No man can slime her reputation or hold sway over her newly established “ethos” which has been granted to her by the priest she confessed to. She is a new person and with Tom’s love she will continue to be this new person.

Ciaran Byrne, Liam Forde, Cynthia Mace, The Mountains Look Different, Micheál mac Liammóir, Aidan Redmond, Mint Theater Company

(L to R): Ciaran Byrne, Liam Forde, Cynthia Mace, ‘The Mountains Look Different,’ by Micheál mac Liammóir, directed by Aidan Redmond, Mint Theater Company (Todd Cerveris)

However, Martin’s false Christianity will not allow her to be this new, respectable woman. He will not allow her to remain at the farm because he “knows” her from nine years before, as in the Biblical phrase of “knowing.” Stepping into the dark recesses of evil and sin which his shallow, form-filled Christianity cannot expurgate, Martin offers Bairbre a devil’s bargain. She may remain with Tom on the farm, but must stay on his terms and pay his asking price. Bairbre’s decision is fated; she explains that “the mountains don’t look different” after all. Ironically, she chooses the only way out to maintain the dignity that is blossoming in her soul. Her act of self-defense is a supremely sardonic, “un-Christian” one that during the original premiere of the play brought controversy and outrage. In that expression of outrage and its plot and themes, the play is wildly current. Indeed, though one would hope the “mountains look different” in our lives, a trope meaning  cultural and personal progress comes with every generation, in parts of the U.S. as in this play’s culture and folkways, nothing has changed.

This is a marvelous work by mac Liammóir. The Mint Theater Company’s production has brought it to life as it deserves, with emotional and riveting performances by the ensemble and appropriate shepherding by the director. A caveat is that sometimes the accents slide over the words and comprehension becomes diminished. This is a pity because the play is powerful. Every word is critical, especially to emphasize the themes of redemption, entrenched evil conveyed by hypocritical mores, the love of money as the root of all evil, self-hatred and unforgiveness causing destruction. The playwright’s seminal characterizations must “take no prisoners,” and will further shine as the actors embody the roles with clarity that resonates for us today.

Kudos goes to the creative team: Vicki R. Davis (sets) Andrea Varga (costumes) Christian Deangelis (lights) M. Florian Staab (sound) Heather Martin Bixler (music director) Chris Fields (props).

The Mountains Look Different runs with one intermission at Theatre Row on 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth until 14 July. For tickets and times go to their website by CLICKING HERE.

 

 

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Aidan Redmond in ’79 Parts,’ a Film by Ari Taub, Interview

 

Aidan Redmond, 79 Parts, period action/adventure/comedy hybrid, Ari Taub

’79 Parts’ by Ari Taub (courtesy of the film)

The film 79 Parts by Ari Taub screened and won the Audience Choice Award at the Soho Film Festival (2016) for its madcap comedy, gangster shenanigans and reminiscences of New York City at a time before 9/11, cell phones, Uber, Lyft, Via and “If you See Something Say Something.” I enjoyed the film (a hybrid- period/ action/adventure/comedy) for its performances, humor, and the gritty 1970s feel of NYC. Taub shot it in 16 mm, as a labor of love to get the ambience just right. Along with principal Aidan Redmond, 79 Parts features dynamos Eric Roberts as Douglas Anderson, Tony Lo Bianco as Vincent and Sandra Bernhard as Mrs. Fletcher, all in supporting roles.

Sandra Bernhard, 79 Parts, Ari Taub

Sandra Bernhard in ’79 Parts’ directed by Ari Taub. (photo from the film)

My review of 79 Parts appeared on Blogcritics (click here for the review). It was then that I had the opportunity to sit down with Aidan Redmond in 2016 and interview him.

As a celebration of the release of the film on VOD on all platforms, 7th May 2019, I reconnected with Ari Taub and Aidan Redmond, who plays Irish gangster Dennis Slattery in 79 Parts. In the updated interview Aidan and I chat about the film and Aidan’s career since 79 Parts. He and Ari Taub are thrilled that 79 Parts is screening today, May 1st at 6:30 pm, Wythe Hotel and screening room and bar.

Ari Taub, Aidan Redmond, 79 Parts, Eric Roberts, Tony LoBianco

Aidan Redmond is in ’79 Parts,’ by Ari Taub (courtesy of Aidan Redmond)

So what do you think of our city?

Well, I’m living here, 17 years now.

And you’re not leaving.

And I’m not leaving.

You could live in Dublin. Would you live in Dublin?

I could live in Dublin. I like to visit as often as my time in New York allows. But New York is my home for now. I was back in Dublin performing in a national tour of Marina Carr’s play, The Mai, last Summer (2018) . It felt great to be returning to Ireland, to perform in my homeland.

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from County Meath.

I was in Ireland at the Tyrone Guthrie Center on a fellowship. I met playwrights and screenwriters and that’s how I know there is a lot of work there. They respect actors with experience from America on their resume.

So long as the resume reflects dedication to the craft, all’s well. Nothing beats hard work, whether in Ireland or America.

Your background is in theater. What are some of the things you’ve done there and here?

My studies began at The Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College Dublin. In 2003, I moved to New York, shortly after a national tour of Hamlet with the Roscommon based Praxis Theatre Company, directed by Sam Dowling. I continued my studies at The Lee Strasberg Institute, and began pursuing a career in theatre and film in earnest. Most recently in New York, I’ve played “Dmitry” in The Yalta Game by Brian Friel and “Him” in Woman And Scarecrow by Marina Carr both at the Irish Rep. In 2014, I made my Broadway debut taking over the role of “Dr. McSharry” in Michael Grandage’s West End transfer of Martin Mc Donagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe and Pat Shortt.

Aidan Redmond, Conor Bagley, Two By Friel, The Yalta Game, Irish Repertory Theatre

Aidan Redmond in ‘Two by Friel,’ (‘The Yalta Game’), directed by Conor Bagley, at The Irish Repertory Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

You were at The Signature Center in 2015? (A Particle of Dread {Oedipus Variations} by Sam Shepard)

I was. It was in  2014. I played “Laius/ Langos/Larry” opposite Stephan Rea and Bríd Brennan in the US premiere of Sam Shepard’s final play, A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) directed by Nancy Meckler. That was a wonderful experience. Working with the late Sam Shepard was a great honor.

Now, to 79 Parts in which you have a major role. I thought the film was interesting, offbeat. How did the film evolve? How did you get the role of Dennis Slattery?

Well, I think, first of all, it’s Ari Taub’s (the director) love song to New York. He’d done a few shorts in the past and he wanted to tell a story based in New York. The script originally was written in the 1970s. It was shot on 16 mm to give it that look and feel. Everything to make it as authentic to 1970s New York was done. When I came to play the character, he was initially an Italian mobster, but then Ari and the producers thought it would be better to have him as an Irish guy. So then we reworked the story so that the backstory could reflect this.

You helped to contribute to the writing and the creation of the characterization.

Yes, in the beginning. But that’s going back to 2007, 2008, a long time ago. 

I think any time actors help the writer and director bring together characters, plot and themes, it has an organic structure that is grounded. I thought you were grounded in that character and believable. Did you base your character on anyone you may know like that?

Dennis is the kind of guy whose lived with trouble all his life. He’s grown up with it. He’s made his life from it. Taking advantage of it. His life has been spent dodging the system. When he comes to America he is drawn to a life of crime. He sets to work. He makes connections. He meets Vincent (Tony Lo Bianco), commits petty crimes here and there, this and that, then the chop shop. Vincent introduces Dennis to Vera, his daughter. Seizing the opportunity, Dennis marries into the family. When Vincent goes to jail for money laundering; Dennis takes over the chop shop. He uses the opportunity to bring in his crew with car parts from abroad. He meets Anna at his wife’s favorite bakery. They start an affair, he falls in love. From that moment on he begins to want out. Jack arrives on the scene and Dennis’s world starts to get very complicated. I think inevitably he’s trying to get out. He’s not so much a bad guy, as a guy who has gotten himself into a situation that’s too big for him.

Tony Lo Biano, Lisa Regina, Eric Robert, 79 Parts, Ari Taub

(L to R): Tony Lo Bianco, Lisa Regina, Eric Roberts in ’79 Parts.’ Photo by Naoko Takagi.

His development as a person is interesting.

He wants out and he wants to take Anna with him.

Your character is not wicked, and you make him likable. That’s where your grounding comes in.

I’d like to think there’s a little bit of good in everybody. You know…he can be bad when he’s put to it but he wants to live a better life.

Is this one of the larger film roles you’ve had?

I guess it is. I did a movie directed by David Barker called Daylight (2007) which was my first feature film. Shortly after that I played a role in I Sell The Dead directed by Glenn McQuaid. Since then its been mostly theatre with a foray into TV for Daredevil and then another short film I wanted to do, set in the South during the height of the Civil Rights movement, called Delta Girl by Jaclyn Bethany. This is one of the larger film roles though, yes.

Well, you’re focused in a central part of the film.

It turned out that way. Overall it was a very enjoyable experience.

You’ve said, “It’s not his story, it’s my story.” Was that the writer’s or your collaboration with Ari?

I think that came about over time. The script we had in the beginning was very different from the movie we had in the end. I mean the essence of it was still there, but it progressed as time progressed. We’re filming on such a small budget. We’d shoot for a couple of days and then we’d wait 6 months and shoot another couple of days. That spanned over three, four, five years. We were going back and forth a lot.

Eric Roberts, 79 Parts, Ari Taub

Eric Roberts in ’79 Parts,’ directed by Ari Taub. (photo courtesy of the film)

Whose story is it? How did that evolve?

Well, it’s the 1970s. Everyone’s fighting for themselves to tell their story to make their mark on the city. And I think what we found was what started off to be about Jack, ended up being as much about Dennis. To have the two of them face off against one another makes for a better story.

So that happened over time. I noted there were three people writing the script and then you were adding to it with the collaboration…

You know how it is. The actors get on set and something happens. At the end of the day, the actors probably know the characters better or at least as well as the writer. The scene begins to take on its own life. Then we had the voice over on top of that as well. So…

When did they add the voice over, at the end?

Pretty much. 

So he did the editing and then added the script for the voice over…

I think the voice over was always in the back of our minds. In ’79 Parts there are literally so many parts to the story, you can tell it in so many ways, from so many different perspectives, the more we could do to simplify the story, the better. 

Did you get to meet Tony Lo Bianco and Eric Roberts?

Only in passing. I had a one-sided telephone scene with Tony and a couple of scenes with Sandra Bernhardt. We got to sit down and talk. She was fun. 

How did you and Ari get together?

I was doing Daylight with David Barker. We were in rehearsals one day and Ari appeared. From that moment forward we kept in touch.

How do you approach a role. It’s different when as in this instance you were working with the director. Theater is very different.

I approach any role, whether for theatre or film, in a similar way. I like to learn as much as I can about the time and place. In this case, I believe the character of Dennis is not so much a bad guy as a guy in a bad place. If the audience can empathize with my character, then with luck they can sympathize with the scene. So I try to look at character in terms of the character’s humanity. Hopefully, then, when the character is thrown back into the mix, things happen organically. I like when the life of a character happens spontaneously on the set or stage. I like things to happen in the moment. If done right, whether on set or in the theatre, one never quite knows what is going to happen next, but it will be honest and therefore exciting – It’s this story now in front of these people.

Aidan Redmond, Jenny Leona, Irish Rep, The Yalta Game, Brian Friel, Two By Friel

Aidan Redmond, Jenny Leona in ‘The Yalta Game,’ by Brian Friel, ‘Two By Friel’ at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

It is what is so wonderful about live theater. Do you have a preference between film and theater?

I value any opportunity to work on character. When I was working on The Cripple of Inishmaan, I began as the understudy and afterwards took over the role. In a sense I had to fit my performance into a certain preordained box. For the US premiere of Mr Shepard’s play, I was taking over the role from the actor who had played it in Ireland. So within a certain framework, I still had boundaries. But in some projects, I’ve been able to originate the roll. I had that luxury playing Dennis. I don’t know where I drew him from, but he is a man in love to begin with – as good and honest a place to start as any… 

There’s this ineffable quality that is part of the artistic process. You evolve a process and one day leads to another…

There are certain things that can happen naturally in a performance that occasionally an actor may not fully understand or have a name for. So you know how to play it, but you don’t know what the note is. Once you’ve learned the notes then you can run the board.

Do you have other projects you are working on?

I am directing a beautiful play for the Mint Theatre Company called The Mountains Look Different by Michael MacLiammòir. We open in June and will run through the end of July at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, 42nd street.

The Mint Theatre does great work. Have you acted with them before?

I’ve acted in three plays with The Mint as part of an ongoing exploration of the works of Teresa Deevy; The US premieres of Wife To James Whelan, Temporal Powers and The Suitcase Under The Bed. Directing Mountains will mark my fourth time working with The Mint Theatre Company.

So you will be at The Mint, and you’re constantly looking for film roles and theater. Anything on the horizon with film?

I’m currently working on a film called Son of The South, produced by Spike Lee and directed by Barry Alexander Brown. The film is shooting in Alabama and set during the Civil Rights movement in 1961.

Do you sing and dance?

I sing on one of the tracks in the movie. There’s a scene at the beginning of Dennis and Anna’s story where they are in the bakery and there’s a song playing in the background. That’s me.

Imperfect Love, Christina Spina, Aidan Redmond, Brandon Cole, Mihael Di Jiacomo

Aidan Redmond, Cristina Spina, ‘Imperfect Love,’ by Brandon Cole, directed by Michael Di Jiacomo (courtesy of the production)

As an Entertainment Journalist I have reviewed Off Broadway over the years and Broadway this year as a Drama Desk voter. I have had the occasion to review productions that Aidan has been in. One was Imperfect Love, which I reviewed for Theatre Pizzazz, Sandi Durell’s magazine about all things NYC Cabaret and Theater. The other review appears in Blogcritics.org of the  Irish Rep’s Two By Friel, The Yalta Game.

Look for Aidan Redmond’s Irish gangster who wants a better life in 79 Parts. online starting 7th May. You can screen the film this evening, May 1st at 6:30 pm, at the Wythe Hotel screening room and bar. Drop in and say hello to the film team and see Ari Taub’s love letter to New York City.  79 Parts will be on VOD on all platforms, 7th May 2019. Click any 79 Parts link to go to their website and see the trailer.

 

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