By John Kearns
On Tuesday, December 18th, at the Cell Theatre on Manhattan’s West 23rd Street, a standing-room-only crowd enjoyed the final Irish American Writers and Artists’ Salon of 2012, an evening full of music, poetry, drama, prose, and dance.
We started off the evening with a round of applause for Charles Hale, who has stepped down from MCing and organizing the Salons and from the IAW&A Board of Directors. We appreciate all of the hard work Charles put into building and running the Salon and we wish him well on his new project, Artists Without Walls.
Michele Cetera read a poignant tribute about her friend, Ivor Panell, who died of complications of sickle cell anemia at age forty six. She then performed a high energy dance with partner Ricardo Villa to help the audience visualize Ivor’s spirit, endurance, and spunk. He never let his disease bring him down. Through dance, he was able to embrace life and see all the color and beauty around him. The dance/story was entilted, “Ode to a Friend.”
Arnine Cumsky Weiss took to the stage next to read a chapter from her new novel, She Ain’t Heavy,about loyalty and friendship and second chances. Her publisher, Academy Chicago, will launch the e-book within the next two weeks and the hard copy in February/March. We look forward to the book’s publication.
Sarah Fearon and Jack O’Connell performed a first reading from Act I, Scene I of John Ford Noonan’s Conversations with Chekhov. Sarah and Jack wanted to pay tribute to John Ford Noonan, who is now sixty nine and in an assisted living facility. This piece was just one slice from his humorous cannon of work. Jack’s friend, Tom Nohilly, states that Mr. Noonan has heard about the readings Sarah and Jack are doing and is glad to hear about them. Sarah and Jack will probably repeat the scene in near future.
Honor Molloy closed out the first half of the evening with a funny and touching performance of “Sixpence the Stars” — a retelling of the Nativity story from the perspective of a Moore Street Market dealer at Christmastime in Dublin, circa 1966. The story is an excerpt from Honor’s novel, Smarty Girl: Dublin Savage.
Just before the break, IAW&A Vice President and Black ’47 bandleader, Larry Kirwan spoke about the IAW&As new need to pay for the use of the Cell Theatre for its Salons. The Cell had generously donated the space for over a year but now needs to charge us. Larry passed a hat so that Salon attendees could help defray the cost. Larry also wished Charles Hale well and encouraged everyone to support Artists Without Walls.
After the break, in his first Salon presentation, City College Creative Writing teacher and WBAI Radio producer, Brendan Costello read a short story set in the Jazz Age, entitled, “Mrs. Duncan (There Ain’t No Sweet Man).” “A meditation on grief and mercy,” as Brendan described it, the story is based on an apocryphal anecdote about the 1920s jazz musician, Bix Biederbecke.
Tom Mahon read a piece from his series of prose/poems that take place in upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley. In the story, set in the late 40s-early 50s, Mark Jenkins buys 700 acres and then goes to Scotland for a particular breed of sheep. He returns with the sheep and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Mary. Mark’s and Mary’s lives soar together until disaster strikes, and Mary shows her true mettle. From there, they go on to live happy, prosperous lives, as all five of their children did, by leaving the land to become professionals.
Maura Mulligan, author of the uplifting memoir, Call of the Lark, gave a brief history about the origins of Wren Day, which occurs each year on December 26th. In her Mayo village of Aghamore, colorful visitors, dressed in ribbons, straw, and masks would travel from house to house, entertaining neighbors with music, song, and dance.
Then Maura invited fiddler, Marie Reilly, and singer, Jack DeMonti, to join dancers from her céilí dance class on stage. Jack sang “The Wren Song” made popular by the Clancy Brothers in the 60’s. Marie, whose CD, The Anvil, was released this year, played for Stephanie Lutz and Michelle Cetera who joined Maura in a lively jig. Stephanie also played the bodhrán. This Wren Day presentation was a colorful treat for Christmas!
Next, two accomplished actors, Annabel Hagg [http://annabelhagg.com/] and Jake Green [http://www.thejakegreen.com/], performed scenes from Martha Pinson’s original screenplay, Body Count 1968. The work reflects the struggle of a young woman swept into the social, political, and sexual revolutions of the late 60s and a charming, brilliant, radical young man who is doing his best to sweep her into his arms.
Seamus Scanlon read from his crime fiction collection, As Close as You’ll Ever Be [Link: http://www.cairnpress.com/pages/titles], which Peter Quinn has described as, “A masterpiece. Wildly disturbing and penetratingly truthful.” The book is also available at the Mysterious Bookshop and The Center for Fiction. Seamus’s story captured the innocence and dark humor of childhood as well as the brutality of violence.
Singer/Songwriter Tara O’Grady debuted an original song that she wrote on the plane returning from Butte, Montana’s “An Ri Ra Irish Music Festival.” “That’s What the Miners Would Say: A Song for Butte” is about a day in 1917 when 163 miners died in a fire. Based on notes they scribbled in the dark to their families as the smoke took away their last breaths, Tara imagined the mostly Irish-born miners in their final moments.
She ended the evening on a lighter note, performing a holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” from the new album, Together for Christmas- A Contemporary Celtic Christmas Collection which also features other IAWA members Larry Kirwan and Ashley Davis.
Tara got audience members to snap their fingers to help her keep jazzy time as she sang, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas … shewbeedoobee!”…
Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, indeed!
– John Kearns
photos by Kathy Callahan