The World Premiere of
IN PIGEON HOUSE
By Honor Molloy
Original music by Paul Loesel
Directed by Brian Shaw
Performed at The Den Theatre
1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue
October 17 – November 18, 2012
Juxtaposed against the contemporary drug-fueled club scene in Dublin, In Pigeon Houseweaves together vaudeville, music hall, and cinema in this love letter to traveling shows. Moving between time and genres, the itinerant players Basher, Masher, Rasher and Dolly rip up the stage with a furious tornado of language and moving pictures. A startlingly theatrical and darkly comic oeuvre, In Pigeon House at once explodes and upholds the romantic myth of the traveling show.
In Pigeon House owes its inspiration to the “fit-ups,” traveling shows that toured Ireland’s countryside in the first half of the twentieth century. Farmers and villagers “starved for a bit of culture” prized the indigenous touring companies from whose talented and highly accomplished ranks emerged such actors as Cyril Cusack and Milo O’Shea. John Molloy, Honor’s father, began his own career in the fit-ups before moving on to star in Ireland’s first soap opera, Tolka Row.
Photos by Eileen Molony
*Member of Actor’s Equity Association
From the Chicago Sun-Times
October 24, 2012
Art most definitely imitates life in Honor Molloy’s play, “In Pigeon House,” now receiving its world premiere by Chicago’s Seanachaí Theatre. A multilayered history of the invariably rough-and-tumble, penniless and often brutal existence of itinerant Anglo-Irish performers throughout the 20th century, its quartet of time-shifting characters moves from squalid bedsits to the stage and screen.
Along the way they engage in bits of vaudeville, clowning and music hall numbers, and are seen in some 1920s movies (which years later show up on the telly). Then, we even fast forward to some scuzzy rock clubs where porno meets performance art. There also are echoes of Sean O’Casey, and James Joyce (just listen to the finale) and Samuel Beckett (a mock play titled “Man in the Box”), with the real life sequences — which are sometimes difficult to separate from the theatrical scenes — liberally laced with the cliches of both Irish life (from endless babies and feckless men, to both illiteracy and linguistic delights), and show biz (it’s all about “the art” and a desperate escape from dreary reality).
Molloy (who may be best known as the author of the autobiographical novel, “Smarty Girl — Dublin Savage”), has taken an ambitious approach to her subject, jump-cutting frequently in terms of time, temper and medium. It’s not always easy to decipher exactly what is going on (and there are thick accents and lots of local lingo, to boot). But under the exuberantly athletic direction of Brian Shaw (a founding member of Plasticene, the now defunct but hugely innovative physical theater company), the four expert actors give us intensely vivid portraits of performers who operate on the fringe of society.
John Mossman is fleet and chillingly sinister as Basher, the veteran leading man who can rant about how another comic stole his material, bluntly tell a younger actor to “work the bog out of your mouth” (ie., lose your Irish accent), and kick the stuffings out of a woman. As Rasher, Ira Amyx brings all the hapless hopefulness and horniness of a rube to his theatrical efforts. Katherine Schwartz easily lights up the stage as Dolly, and is equally convincing as both a pert dairy manager and practiced vixen. (Her dramatic piece about cows slaughtered in a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak is a gem.) And as Masher, Barbara Figgins is the character actress who in old age is bedazzled by the technology that enables her to watch her younger self on film.
As for the actors of Seanachaí, Chicago’s Irish-based theater troupe, they are more than familiar with the vicissitudes of the itinerant life, but their new performance space at The Den is just right for this show.
One word of warning: Any actor with a makeup box might just want to check their lipsticks for hidden pins. I will explain no further.
From the Chicago Reader
October 25, 2012
In the course of his travels, Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby spends time with the Crummleses, an affably flimflammy family of itinerant theater artistes. Parts of this strange new comedy by Irish-American writer Honor Molloy play like a profane update on that adventure. Our hero, Rasher, is no noble Nicholas. He likes his rock of coke and doesn’t draw the line at punching his mum. But he’s also sweetly diffident in love. And when he joins a troupe doing “fit-ups” (as in “fit up a curtain, we’ll put on a show”), he finds his calling and his community.In fact, so does the play itself: In Pigeon House is ultimately a tribute to the spirit of stage play through the generations. I’m sure I’d have caught a lot more if I were Irish, but patience is rewarded here by Molloy’s cunning and surreal sensibility — channeling a whole slew of Irish bards, from Beckett to Martin McDonagh and Enda Walsh — and by the fit-upish elan of Seanachaí Theatre’s own cast of artistes under the direction of Brian Shaw.
From Chicago Theater Beat
October 22, 2012
The playwright’s inspiration for In Pigeon House comes from “fit ups,” traveling shows that toured Ireland’s countryside in the first half of the twentieth century. So known because performers would “fit up” a bed sheet as curtain for the shows, they were lively, simple entertainment for rural folk who didn’t get much in the way of it.
In Pigeon House pays homage to that genre as well as to its relatives vaudeville, music hall, and cinema. Its four players — Basher, Masher, Rasher, and Dolly — charge from scene to scene, seamlessly transitioning from the exaggerated, witty repartee of vaudeville players, to overdramatic silent film, to gorgeously delivered monologues. Aspiration, love, heartbreak, and bitter disappointment are played as broadly one moment as they are with deep sensitivity the next, with equal success.
The cast is a marvel of physicality, vocal skill, and performance, delivering each scene with a sensibility for its genre. As Dolly, Katherine Schwartz gives a very funny exaggerated performance as a dairy wife arguing with her husband; all that’s missing is a hand to her forehead; later, she gives a wrenching monologue on the devastation wrought by foot-in-mouth to her family’s generations-old farm. When Basher (John Mossman) talks about the days when he and his fellow clowns worked with Chaplin, the days when “there were hundreds of clowns across Europe,” his intensity and command so spellbound the audience that it was absolutely still. (Did I mention that he delivers this monologue while sitting in a graffiti-scrawled public toilet stall? That, my friends, is impressive acting.)
Ira Amyx’s Rasher goes from indolent drugger to a naïve “nearly man” touring with the performers and finding love for the first time. His simplicity stays honest and endearing, and when he switches to more worldly characters he is just as convincing.
Barbara Figgins (Masher) is delightful as she bounces back and forth from living in the past as a dowdy has-been to playing the sexpot siren of the touring company.
An uncredited star of the show is Honor Molloy’s script, a melodious work of gorgeous, clever language. Thanks to vocal coach Andra Velis Simon, the cast members sound completely authentic, and the Irish accents faithfully bring out the beauty of Molloy’s dialogue. Listening to the cast volley words back and forth, playing with the sounds and bringing out the cadence, is a real pleasure.
In Patrick McGee’s ingenious, minimalist set, pieces come out of walls to form boxes that can be configured and re-configured, unfolded, and opened, transforming from living room to dressing room to dairy shed to nightclub bathroom. The cast’s impressive rapid maneuvering of the scenery (which also includes three curtains at the front of the stage) extends the carnival quality of the show. An inset platform becomes a TV set where movies are projected and the actors perform shows in real-time (the device of using a “remote control” to fast-forward, pause, and rewind the live actors is especially effective; improv students might recognize the exercise, and can appreciate how much concentration it takes.)
The only real problem I have with the show is that while each scene is sufficient and entertaining in itself, it’s difficult determining any narrative line, or whether there even is one. There were times when I felt that I was supposed to see a connection among scenes and characters, that I was supposed to understand more about what was going on than I did. I’m not particularly obtuse, and I hate being spoon-fed, but I found it confusing and frustrating. And at about two hours with intermission, the show feels like it could use a trim.
Still, this world premier is successful despite these drawbacks. If you love great language and stellar performances, and want to see something less traditional, In Pigeon House will impress.
From the Chicago Sun-Times
October 10, 2012
By Mary Houlihan
Honor Molloy may have left Ireland when she was 8 years old but she has never forgotten her life there. It has influenced her writing from plays such as “In Pigeon House,” about to make its world premiere at Seanachaí Theatre and her autobiographical novel Smarty Girl, Dublin Savage, released earlier this year.
“In Pigeon House” is a very personal story and very specific to traditions found in Irish theatrical history. It’s also very hard to envision by simply reading without the advantage of the input of a director and actors.
“Yes, it is hard on the page,” Molloy says with a laugh. “It’s not a piece of literature. To exist, it needs to be in the real world.”
The darkly comic “In Pigeon House” weaves together vaudeville, music hall, and cinema in a tribute to traditional Irish traveling shows known as fit-ups. Moving between time and genres and amidst a flurry of complex language are the itinerant players Basher (John Mossman), Masher (Barbara Figgins), Rasher (Ira Amyx) and Dolly (Katherine Schwartz).
Throughout her career, Molloy says she has been trying to tell her actor father’s story. The first piece she ever wrote went as far back as her grandfather, who worked in British music halls with people like a very young Charlie Chaplin. His third child, her father, John, dropped out of school (he would learn to read and write later) and “took to the road and did the fit-ups.”