Solas Nua, the little performing arts company specializing in all cultural matters Irish, enjoyed an engaging theater run in Washington from the mid-2000s until 2011, when it suddenly curtailed its drama programming and continued off in other directions. In that short window of stage time, its successes included marshaling the talents of 21 actors for 2007’s “Scenes from the Big Picture,” a gritty, multidimensional portrait of life in Belfast, and one of the best offerings that decade by any small troupe in town.
Now, Solas Nua — which in Irish Gaelic means “new light” — has a new artistic director, Rex Daugherty, a Washington actor who appeared on Solas Nua’s stages. He’s restoring theater to the group’s menu, and, if his first entry is any indication, there’s hope for this group to re-plant its imaginative flag forcefully on the city’s theater map.
The initial production is, smartly, very modest and, of course, very Irish: “Wild Sky,” a concise and poetic historical play by Deirdre Kinahan, a Dublin-based playwright whose family drama “Moment” just ended a well-received run at Studio Theatre. With “Wild Sky,” conjuring the events of Ireland’s Easter Rebellion of 1916 through the intertwining stories of two young people, played with impressive fervor by Dylan Morrison Myers and Megan Graves, the hour-long piece will be most meaningful to European history buffs and those with a sentimental attachment to the country’s centuries-long struggle for independence.
The first-person stories have their absorbing moments, as Myers’s Tom Farrell and Graves’s Josie Dunn relate to us their movements leading up to what’s become known as the Rising, a violent protest against British rule that set in motion the events culminating in the declaration of a free Ireland five years later. But if Kinahan’s cascade of lyrical narrative veers at times toward wordiness, Daugherty’s cleverly manipulated production keeps us alert and on our toes.
The director has chosen a most intriguing performance space for “Wild Sky”: the living room of a Washington home. Theater in private houses may have its limitations, but it’s proved to be a viable venue for other shows, such as the winning “The Duchess of Malfi” that director/actor Jordan Friend assembled in a house in Chevy Chase a few years ago. (In another variation on this concept, the Welders, a playwrights collective, are now performing Gwydion Suilebhan’s “Transmission” at the Atlas Performing Arts Center to audiences of 20 in easy chairs.)
The home location of “Wild Sky” is changing as the run continues. Last weekend, it was a coolly renovated house behind a private courtyard on a side street near Dupont Circle. The atmosphere of a warm experience began the moment you walked through the gated entrance, where you were greeted by a basket of Irish bread and the option to take part in one of two brief pre-performance tutorials. One was in Irish step dancing and the other, a short course in the Irish language, during which I learned to say hello, which was transliterated by my actor-tutor as “Gia Ditch.”
The production itself was only slightly less involving — but just as inventive. Around the 30 or so strategically situated audience members, Myers and Graves took turns advancing the story, of Tom’s agnosticism about the fighting and his affection for Josie. Her feelings are the opposite: She’s a fierce partisan for Irish revolution and uninterested romantically in Tom.
Daugherty and three actresses, Beth Aaman, Daven Ralston and Ashley Zielinski, form a lovely, multitasking chorus, performing Irish folk songs and providing accompaniment on violin and percussion. Myers and Graves are just right, intermingling their portrayals in a way that feels both intimate and of the period. (Robert Croghan’s costumes help, too.)
Marianne Meadows’s lighting design consists entirely of three fixtures on long poles — supplemented occasionally by candlelight. At key moments, the glow and the shadows they create add a soupcon of theatricality. It leads one to muse optimistically about what else the revived Solas Nua will come up with, if it can season so resourcefully from a simple recipe.
Wild Sky, Deirdre Kinahan, directed and choreographed by Rex Daugherty. Set, Paige Hathaway; lighting, Marianne Meadows; costumes, Robert Croghan; music direction, Michael Winch and Aaron Bliden. About 60 minutes. Tickets, $35. Visit solasnua.org or call 202-315-1317. Performances through May 15 take place at various private residences in Washington; check the company’s website for locations.