Irish Play Series begins with Doherty’s quirky comedy ‘Trad’

It’s a whiskey-flavored “Waiting for Godot” meets a much less mobile “Dancing at Lughnasa.”

It’s “Trad,” a 21st century chapter in the saga that is the ever-ongoing Irish love of language, a surreal tale of the importance of tradition and legacy, about an ancient father, Da, and his 100-year-old son, Thomas, embarking on a road trip to find their long lost heir.

With infirmities befitting their advanced years — Thomas has only one good arm, Da a wooden leg — the twosome set off, albeit very slowly, on a road they’ve rarely traveled: the one that leads out of their tiny, rural village.

“Trad” is set to take the stage at Bainbridge Performing Arts for a special one-night-only rehearsed reading, directed by Wilson Milam, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, as part of Bainbridge Performing Arts’ new Irish Play Series.

Tickets, $20 per person, are available now at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org or by phone at 206-842-8569. The show is recommended for those aged 13-and-older only, though no expressly explicit content is involved.

The cast includes Helen Heaslip, MJ Sieber, Ken Grantham and Kimberly Kay King.

The artful, absurdist comedy, which weaves stories of Ireland’s past poverty with the realities of the hard lives of locals, is about more than merely a unique relationship between father and son. Thomas is a stranger in his own land, fearful of others and constantly asking to turn around, go back home and abandon the quest, which his centenarian-plus father will simply not let him do.

Morals and life lessons — and much laughter — ensue.

“Trad” was for Doherty, a longtime famous stand-up comedian and actor, a breakout work of writing. It won an Edinburgh Fringe First and a BBC Radio Drama Stewart Parker Trust Award in 2004. Doherty has also written for radio and television, and he won the Tiernan McBride International Screenplay award for his first film “A Film with Me In It,” in 2006.

It is also the perfect play to kick off BPA’s Irish Play Series, explained Siobhan Maguire, BPA operations and box office manager (who was born and raised in Dublin) and the show’s producer.

“There’s a lot of really new, exciting, fun writing coming out of Ireland,” she said. “I’ve been hankering to try and get some of that heard here.”

While Irish wordsmiths are easily counted among some of the best around, on the stage and the page, Maguire said people tend to know the same big names the world over and newbies often get overlooked.

“The idea was just to try and get some new Irish writers in and look at Ireland in a way that may not be represented in general in the big play houses in the States, who are still doing the traditional … type of thing,” she said.

Also, the limited run does much to make the material more approachable.

“It’s not a full scale, three-week run, so you’re not forcing it upon people who don’t want it,” Maguire said. “If people want to come and hear it, that’s fantastic.

“Trying to do a full scale production on something is difficult, and also will there really be an audience and how much interest is there?” she added. “So, we thought that if we did readings, at least it’s like you get to immerse yourself in that world and just listen to the story and hear those voices and you have to suspend your disbelief and transport yourself to wherever it is.”

The director agreed, saying that smaller, more intimate productions can actually be harder to pull off than large, lavish shows.

“Very definitely harder,” Milam said. “With what you have you find a way to tell the story, and we have a script and four actors.”

“In some ways it’s nearly harder to do a reading,” Maguire agreed. “You have nothing to hide behind. It’s just the actors and the script and you don’t get to have a music intro, there’s nothing else to help transport the audience other than literally the raw material.”

And, of course — Saints and begorrah! — there’s the question of the accent.

To emulate or not to emulate, that is the question.

“There’s always an issue with American actors; do you go with the accent? Do you try not to?” Maguire laughed.

Some of the cast already had experience in such characterization, however.

“Two of the actors I did a production with of ‘Outside Mullingar,’” Milam said. “So their Irish accents are — they’ve done an Irish accent before.”

As every other town in Ireland seems to have a slightly different dialect anyway, Maguire said, the trick to performing the material was less about technicalities and more about characterization.

“It’s a lot of quick wit, a lot of that Irish banter back-and-forth, and sarcasm,” she said. “Everything in Ireland is always about the fact that we were invaded 800 years ago and we haven’t quite gotten over it.

“This play was written in 2006, right around the time when Ireland was going through this huge boom and all of a sudden people were emigrating into Ireland, which had never happened before,” she explained. “Everyone just leaves, because there are no jobs; nothing. And there’s always that loss of your homeland, the families get torn apart, the involvement of the church, there’s all these kind of dark themes that are like a vein running through Irish literature and stories. It’s definitely in this, but there’s a lot of humor and the relationship between the two characters.”

It is, Milam agreed, a, “classic father-and-son story.”

“There’s so much snarkiness and stuff along the way, but the language at the end is just beautiful,” he said.

Public interest was already evident, Maguire said, which bodes well for the series’ continuation and the featuring of more, lesser known works by Irish scribes. The idea already has the seal of approval from Bainbridge Island’s own small but prominent group of Irish expats, too.

“We’ll have some Irish beverages and some Irish music and all the nine Irish women who live on this island and the one Irish guy will all be here,” Maguire said.

“The Irish will be represented. We’ll be going around checking everyone’s accent.”

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