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A CurtainUp Review
A Night In November

Night In NovemberReturns to New York

Marty Maguire in Night in November
Marty Maguire in Night in November
The revival of Marie Jones' play at the Irish Arts Center to coincide with St. Patrick's Day has made quite a slash. Marty Maguire has had plenty of time to become letter perfect in the role since he also performed it in Los Angeles (see Laura Hitchcock's review below). The show's arrival also coincided with an extremly busy time for CurtainUp but with its extension we were able to schedule our critic, Julia Furay, to see it. Here's what she had to say about the current production:

Let's start with the unqualified successes of the the Irish Arts Center's production of Marie Jones' 1994 play, a solo as compared to her other big hit, Stones in His Pockets which featured two actors. Even with just a single actor this is an enduringly funny and exhilarating tale about the power of sport to both to unify and to and divide.

Maguire years of playing Ulster Protestant Kenneth, the a stiff and petty office drone who finds joy, passion and acceptance when he starts to sympathize with the Catholics and cheer for the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup for years makes for an incredibly well-honed and smartly timed performance. But it still feels fresh. Director Tim Byron Owen and Maguire sell the piece brilliantly: Kenneth's gradual transformation from strait-laced and judgmental Englishman to vibrant and exuberant Irishman is a revelation for the viewer -- that is, if you can ignore the ridiculous prejudices and insulting stereotypes in such a transformation. All the Protestants in this play are boring and shallow, with houses that are too clean and friends who gossip too much. The Catholics, on the other hand, live passionate, cheerful lives with messy houses and lots of kids.

It struck me as odd that such a love letter to Irish Catholics, with its lack of depth in portraying Northern Ireland vs. the Republic, was written by a Belfast Protestant. . The bias of the piece made me squirm, and certainly doesn't reflect any actual Irish or Northern Irish attitudes I encountered when I lived there. That said, the play's levity and humor explains its success both in Ireland and around the world.

The original New York reviewer, Ruth Gerchick, found the second act significantly weaker than the first. I came to the opposite conclusion. When Kenneth is struggling with his Protestant background and lifelong bigotry, the play is at its most unsubtle and uncomfortable. When he decides to experience the Irish play in the World Cup firsthand, however, it becomes a joyous and hilarious story of a man finding acceptance and friendship (and a great deal of alcohol) through sports. As Kenneth explains, "I was one of the lads and the lads all looked out for each other, I knew that instinctively. After thirty-four years of looking out for yourself, it was a lovely warm feeling of belongin'…. In their eyes I was one of them, and I loved it."

Irish Arts Center SmartTix 212-868-4444
Starring Marty Maguire
Directed by Tim Byron Owen.
Irish Arts Center 553 W. 51st St. (b/w 10th & 11th Aves)
From 3/17/06 to 4/02/06--extended to 4/09/06--and again to 4/16/06.
Tue to Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm.
Tickets: $35 to $40.
Running Time: Length: 1 hr 50 mins with an intermission

Night In November - Los Angeles
After 15 years in a small space on Hollywood Boulevard, The Celtic Arts Center has inaugurated its new space in North Hollywood with Marie Jones' A Night In November. It's an excellent choice, a play with something to say and a man who can say it in the many-splendored performance of Marty Maguire. Both Jones and Maguire are natives of Belfast, where the play is set. Jones begins with a chilling domestic detail. Every morning before he goes to his job as a dole clerk, Kenneth checks for bombs beneath his car. The killing fields between Unionists (Protestants) and Nationalists (Catholics) incorporate themselves into every detail of daily life: the golf club that accepts Protestant Kenny over his boss, Catholic Jerry; the soccer game that opens Kenny's eyes to his society. He has to take his father-in-law Ernie, one of Maguire's best Dickensian characterizations, who vilifies the other team and gloats over murders of Catholics, revealing to Kenny the bigotry that has always been part not only of his society but of his psyche. When the scales drop from his eyes, his wife and their friends seem as unmasked as the monsters in a Hallowe'en parade. Although we're seeing from Kenny viewpoint, it would be more believable to see less one-dimensional characters. Jerry's home is drawn as so warm, loving and literate that the family seems like a higher life form. The second act is a catharsis in which Kenny runs off to New York to see the World Cup and has a euphoric experience of freedom and bonding with all his fellow Irishmen. I would have liked him better if he'd left a note for his wife and children, but Jones' choice to give this character a flaw saved him from being just a narrator. Although the second act seems like a different play, almost a fantasy, light where the first act was dark, it's in a different country and the contrast is provocative. The play is a showcase for the right actor and Maguire has the chops. Although Jones hasn't given him any sympathetic female characters which allows him to camp the women up, the men range from nasty old Eddie to a Jerry you can almost see to the feral child in a Belfast slum. Tim Byron Owen directs with an instinct for the right beat.
The Celtic Arts Center Theater Company is at , 4843 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Studio City, ph: (818) 760-8322 and the play runs through March 2, 2002. -- Submitted by Laura Hitchcock

Original review by Ruth Gerchick

It’s hard to believe from Dan Gordon’s affecting spontaneity that he isn’t ad-libbing, but this one-man satire about an unimaginative Belfast Protestant civil servant who overcomes his provincialism, is hardly off-the cuff. On the contrary, it derives its unusual energy from a close collaboration between the actor and playwright Marie Jones, who between them manage to make it all sound funny, serious and unrehearsed. Though bigotry is the subject, there is little that smells of polemics-- at least in the first act.

On a night in November 1993 Kenneth McCallister(Dan Gordon) finds himself in the bleachers hurling insults and cat-calls at the Republic of Ireland soccer team. Why? Mainly because this low-level white-collar clerk doesn’t dare to do otherwise. It seems all of Belfast has come to the Windsor Stadium to challenge the temerity of the Catholic team to even enter the precincts, no less to qualify against them for the World Cp. And woe to anyone who stands up for the Catholic "invaders.""

In his sad-sack jacket and tie, McCallister, as blood-thirsty a hero as Woody Allen, alternately recoils and makes a show of his North Ireland loyalty for safety’s sake and because , well, he’s never been a thinking man. But in between shouts, he can’t help admiring the pluck of the Irish (Republicans), which leads him to muse about his own less than heroic life. The flaws in his life center on his bigoted father-in-law, Ernie; his wife Deborah, whose life work is keeping up with the neighbors; and his own stultifying job. "We are the perfect Protestants," he says. "We come in kits."

Not yet fully aware of his ambivalence, McCallister mulls over the locally accepted idea that though the Republic of Ireland is only an hour away, it’s a foreign country. As he puts it -- "Aren’t we all Irish?"

Most absorbing theatrically is his momentary triumph. The local golf club, whose main distinction is that it bars Catholics from belonging, has accepted him as a bona fide member. Now this little man is big, but gradually, as he starts to lord it over his fellow clerks, he sees the emptiness of his petty snobbery. To his father-in-law’s gift of knitted golf club covers, he reacts , "oh-- condoms for golf clubs." There's also a touching scene in the bleachers where McCallister finds himself actually protecting a Catholic who has the grit to come out and cheer for the Republic team, despite the danger of being trounced.

Up to this point, I was enchanted with Dan Gordon’s verve and control of a very difficult part, Pam Brighton's skilled directing, and with the play itself. It had a lot to say and said it well. When the lights went on, I thought the play had come to an end, satisfactorily. But there was another act. What more was there to say? Unfortunately not much.

Act two moves from Ireland to New York where Kenneth joins his new-found Irish Republic buddies at the 1994 World Cup. Though Dan Gordon is still Kenneth McCallister, the character and the tone of the play changes so radically I felt I was in another theater. From a funny, intelligent satire, A Night In November turns into a burlesque with an extended drunken binge that tips the play almost completely off balance. From a dramatization bent on exposing bigotry, the play seems to lose sight of its original idea and becomes an unsubtle flag-waving paean of praise for all things Irish, Catholic Irish, that is.

Despite the first act's superiority, the second act, besides some very funny lines does have its high moments: Gordon singing while driving to the Belfast airport; his wonderful expressions of awe, delight and absolute bewilderment when he arrives in New York without a place to crash. The simple staging -- just three steps which shift from North Ireland's red, white and blue to the Republic's orange, white and green at the beginning of the second act -- works well throughout, never distracting from the subject or Dan Gordon's imaginative presentation.

Written by Marie Jones
With Dan Gordon
Directed by Pam Brighton
Design: Robert Ballagh
Lighting: Brian Mac Devitt
Douglas Fairbanks Theater, 432 West 42nd Street, (212/239-4321)
9/11/98-11/29/98; opening 10/05/98
Reviewed 10/08/98 by Ruth Gerchick
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