DANBURY, CONN. — An assignment to find an Irish story to air as a movie of the week ultimately led to the creation of an original play to be staged at Western Connecticut State University in October.
Louisa Burns-Bisogno, a professor in the WCSU Department of Writing, Linguistics and Creative Process, explained how "Two Nights Near Doolin" came to be.
"In the early 1980s, I was given an assignment by my producer to find an Irish story for American television," she said. "It was the height of 'The Troubles' — the bloody civil war in the North. I witnessed several tragic events and many innocents were caught in the crossfire. This folded into a story that I heard while a graduate student at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1990 about an American who went in search of his own family history.
"The play's setting came about in the mid-'90s when I was invited to read my paper at the First International Conference on the Irish Diaspora at the University of Cork," Burns-Bisogno explained. "While there, I attended my own 'Clancy Clan's annual meeting.' On my way from that event to Cork, I stopped by a little village called Doolin. Located near the famous Cliffs of Moher, Doolin was the center of Irish traditional music and is now a major tourist site. Back then however, musicians would just come down from the hills and 'jam.' It was a fabulous experience and I have been there several times."
The resulting play, "Two Nights Near Doolin," will be staged at Western for two weekends in October. Performances will be at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 9 and 10, 2013; 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11; 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12; 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13; 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18; noon and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20, in the Reimold Theatre in Berkshire Hall on the WCSU Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $10 for WCSU faculty and staff, plus ticketing fees, and are available at www.wcsu.edu/tickets or by calling (203) 837-TIXX.
WCSU Professor of Theatre Arts Pam McDaniel, who will direct "Doolin," brings her own Irish travels to the staging of Burns-Bisogno's play. McDaniel spent 10 days there this summer conducting research that she hopes will add to the authenticity of the WCSU performances.
"I went to Ireland on a research grant to attend the Galway Arts Festival and also to spend time in and near Doolin to see the people and places the play is about," McDaniel said. "I interviewed people in pubs about the local tradition of passing musical skills down from one generation to the next and I heard traditional musicians play. I met families who had operated pubs for six generations and found a prototype for the pub that is the setting for our play."
McDaniel shot a multitude of photos of the scenery found on the west coast of Ireland, including the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Dingle Bay and the Ring of Kerry, which was the terrain Burns-Bisogno had in mind when she wrote the play. McDaniel also brought back images of the inside of the pubs she visited to offer the university's set designers a wealth of information as they endeavored to create an authentic backdrop.
An early version of the play was first read at the Irish Repertory Theater in New York, staged at the Sherman Playhouseand at the Irish Arts Forum. McDaniel said a recent reading of an expanded version of the play by Irish actors at the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences "validated the accurate depiction of the culture" found in Burns-Bisogno's script. "We hope to bring some of these actors to campus to work with our students as they rehearse to further refine the authenticity," McDaniel said.
Patrons of the show will be seated on-set during the performance and the action in the replicated pub will take place in and around the audience. Before the curtain rises on each performance, there will be traditional Irish dance and music for 30 minutes to fully transport the audience to a pub near Doolin.
Seeing her work come to life on the WCSU stage, Burns-Bisogno said, "This production has given me the wonderful opportunity to develop the story fully with music, dance and mystery."
The WCSU cast will include Katelyn Leveille, of Great Barrington, Mass., as Maura; Bri Bowman, of Gordon, Mass., as Young Maura; Aimee M'Sadoques, of Waterbury, as Peg; Colleen Gunning, of Southbury, as Young Peg; David Fejes, of New Fairfield, as Sean O'Byrne; Nick Raines, of Brookfield, as Dan DiBella; Sam Strizver, of Stamford, as Josh Bernstein; Bri Bagley, of Stratford Springs, as Tara Clancy; and Jim Goggin, of Naugatuck, as Michael.
The production team includes: producers Sal Trapani and McDaniel, set designer Maiko Chii, technical director Frank Herbert, technical supervisor Kevin Sosbe, supervisor of student design personnel Elizabeth Popeil, costume designer Kristina Sneshkoff, costume supervisor Joni Johns Lerner, choreographer Matt Mulvey, lighting designer Scott Cally and stage manager Laura O'Donoghue.
For tickets or information, call the Box Office at (203) 837-TIXX or go to www.wcsu.edu/tickets.