The Kennedy Center plans to give Washington a sizable sampling of trendy Irish culture next spring with "Island: Arts From Ireland," a two-week festival of theater, music, film, literary readings and art exhibits.
It will feature the American premieres of "Raftery's Hill," written by Marina Carr and directed by Garry Hynes, who won a 1998 Tony Award for her "Beauty Queen of Leenane"; "Catalpa," a one-man play written and performed by Donal O'Kelley; and "Pentecost," a five-character play written by Stewart Parker and directed by Lynne Parker. The lineup will also include Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan" from Dublin's acclaimed Gate Theatre.
"This is the largest compilation of Irish productions in one place at one time" in America, Kennedy Center President Lawrence J. Wilker said yesterday. He was joined by writer Frank McCourt ("Angela's Ashes" and the new " 'Tis") and brother Malachy, who is appearing at Ford's Theatre in a show recounting the McCourts' youth in Limerick; Sile de Valera, Ireland's minister for arts and heritage; Sir Christopher Meyer, the British ambassador; and Kennedy Center trustee Jean Kennedy Smith, a former ambassador to Ireland and the person who proposed the festival.
"Throughout my term as ambassador," Smith said, "I witnessed the exceptional cultural renaissance that is now evident in every part of Ireland."
The recent output in Irish arts, de Valera said, is due to a good economy and government support. "With the economic boom in Ireland, people had more time," she noted. Her office has contributed $800,000 for the festival and the Northern Ireland Administration gave $400,000.
One of Ireland's most successful exports, the "Riverdance" troupe, will be represented by its composer. Bill Whelan is working on a commission that will have its world premiere in Washington next spring.
The festival will kick off May 13 with an all-star cast of Irish and American performers reviewing the century of Irish American music and dance. The following night the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney will read, accompanied by traditional piper Liam O'Flynn. Several of the musical offerings will emphasize the Irish heritage of some 44 million Americans.