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Bye-bye blarney

Brendan introduces the American Ronan Noone
By LIZA WEISSTUCH  |  October 1, 2007
Ronan Noon

Brendan| Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St, Boston | October 12–November 17 | $15-$50 | 617.266.0800
Ronan Noone is flummoxed. He’s not sure why the focal point of the poster for his new play is a glass of whiskey. It looks like the poster for a dyed-in-the-wool Irish play. Whereas Brendan, which is set for its world premiere by the Huntington Theatre Company, marks a shift for the Irish-born scribe whose Ireland-set dramas have all premiered in Boston. The playwright here is exorcising his Irish ghosts.

“It’s a comedy,” Noone explains. “I know people expect profound, life-changing works. Theater seems to be carrying that noose around its neck. I believe in entertaining and comedy and at same time showing how people find their social graces. People are going to see that poster and think: it’s fucking Conor McPherson going on again, all the ghosts coming in again, a fucking Irish guy drinking alone again. I wrote a comedy — there are no pedophiles, just a good-hearted prostitute and fun-loving people, a few Americans coming to terms with America. People’ll come out clicking their heels.”

Noone’s best-known work, the Baile trilogy, does features hard-bitten, hard-living Irish characters on their native soil. His latest plays, however, focus on those navigating life in a new country. Brendan is the story of an immigrant who receives devastating news from home that throws a monkey wrench into his already challenging plans to find companionship and learn to drive — dual aspirations that director Justin Waldman sees as a stripped-down American Dream. “Instead of a big house,” says Waldman, “he just wants a car and someone to talk to.”

Although Brendan is the first of Noone’s American works, The Atheist, which is about a corrupt Kansas journalist, found its way to the stage earlier — in New York, in London, and, earlier this season, at the Huntington. Both plays got their start as part of the Huntington’s annual Breaking Ground Festival of new-play readings. Noone, who moved to Boston in 1994, calls Brendan his “transition” play. The language and the rhythms have diverged from the traditional framework he’s worked within, not least because his own perspective has changed.

Current circumstances, however, have made these American plays seem almost reactionary. Noone visited family this summer. “Coming from a country that relied on America for 150 years,” he reports, “I found myself attacked for being an American citizen. The war is on, everyone’s pissed — Europeans are pissed at America and the war.” Given that anger, Noone sees Brendan as a reminder that “people come here to find refuge, build, and work hard — though that might be against the times at the moment.”

And though the play makes a forceful statement, for Noone it was an exercise in restraint. “Americans speak more succinctly. Since I transitioned into this mode, the challenge has been to hold back from Irish volubility. Then you find yourself working more in optimism. The Irish have a tendency to pour in toward the heavy.” So maybe it’s time to replace that whiskey with a lighter spirit.

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