Posted by: Mish | March 17, 2009

Mad Angels

Whether in the boxing arena, the music industry, or fighting for rights, politics come into play. Love can be felt towards people, one’s job, or one’s country. Similarly, people dream of success or for a better life. Although other themes and ideas arise in one or more of the five plays written by Larry Kirwan, these three themes are the common denominators. Written and performed off-Broadway in the 1980’s, these plays were later published together in 1995 in an anthology titled Mad Angels.

Liverpool Fantasy is an alternate history that portrays how music can be necessary and an important influence on society. After the Beatles’ split up, Paul McCartney launched a solo career in the United States and during a tour, he decides to bury the hatchet with his former colleagues. He returns to a decaying Britain that’s economically and socially stagnant. Without the Beatles as catalysts, social and political turbulence was nonexistent and both Britain and the U.S. became conservative, to the point of fascism.

It’s a unique take on how music, or the lack thereof, can affect society for better or worse. In my humble opinion it was a bit long winded, but interesting none the less.

Days of Rage is a musical-drama about fighting to hold onto dreams. Fifteen years after becoming a musician, Stevie Hero must face his demons. He feels Howie failed to make good management decisions and is selling him out. He’s also tired of his rock and roll music getting tweaked for popular radio. On one shoulder, so to speak, is his moral conscience in the form of a guerilla telling him he’s “pathetically bland” while on the other is James “the Just” Joyce warning Stevie to stick to his guns and not sell out.

It’s strange, but it oddly works. It reflects Kirwan’s own dealings with the ghosts that inspired this piece. He says in the introduction, “Rock & Roll itself, not some diluted Broadwayized bullshit, would have a leading part.”

Mister Purnell portrays the political and religious divisions between Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics; the love of one’s country; the price of fighting for freedom, one’s beliefs, and the dignity of people and countries. It is based off of the scandal around William O’Shea’s divorce from his wife because of her affair with Charles Stewart Parnell. The Protestant Parnell had a chance at becoming a leader for the Home Rule Movement, which was predominately Catholic. Due to empty negotiations, backstabbing, and jealousy, the chance for a united Ireland was missed.

This is an interesting little peek into the politics and history of 19th century Ireland. The sentiments of Ireland and England are personified, which works quite well.

Blood revolves around the disappearance of the leader of the Irish Citizen Army, James Connolly, who was shot by a British squad shortly after his involvement in the Easter Rising in 1916. During his captivity by Sean McDermott and Patrick Pearse, he’s convinced to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood in a suicidal attempt to overthrow British rule in Ireland.

Its intensity suits the events from which it’s based.

The only play that wasn’t performed, Night in the Garden, is about a young boxer named Frankie who has the chance at the fight of a lifetime, which could also be his last. Among those who want a piece of Frankie are his manager, whose sights are on the fame and fortune, and a television host who wants to show America a hero. The only two who seem to have Frankie’s best interests at heart and who try to talk sense into him are his ex-trainer and his wife, who just wants her husband and a real life.

It’s as quick paced as a boxing match and very New Yorker.

The plays’ move rather quickly, at times it’s dizzying. The characters, historical and not, are well developed and colloquisms comes through loud and clear. Kirwan makes no attempt to soften the language unless it’s necessary for a character. He captures the emotions, turmoil, and politics quite well. Overall, I liked them and am glad I finally finished Mad Angels. I started it before coming across the Drama Challenge, but it and St. Patrick’s Day approaching gave me that little push to do so. It’s been sitting on and off my shelf since the last Black 47 concert I attended a couple years ago.

I can’t say I was surprised by the plays’ content or Kirwan’s writing. These were written prior to Kirwan starting Black 47, an Irish rock band that’s based out of New York City. Like their name, which refers to the worst year of Ireland’s famine (1847), many of Black 47’s songs tend to be political. During their songs such as “James Connolly” or “Free Joe Now” it’s standard to see a sea of fists (and pints of Guinness) raised in the air. The band’s fun “Funky Ceili” and heart touching dedication song, “Michael”, shows that they aren’t always mad angels.

Sláinte!

“Funky Ceili”

“James Connolly”

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