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Director of Dublin's Abbey Theatre in New York

May 01, 2006

See the photos on Flickr

Fiach Mac Conghail discusses the future of the Abbey Theatre at the Harvard Club in New York City,On April 28, at an event hosted by the US-Ireland Alliance, Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, announced that playwright John Patrick Shanley has given the Abbey the rights to produce Doubt. The play, about a nun in a Bronx Catholic School in 1964 who suspects a popular priest of pedophilia, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. Mr. Mac Conghail also announced that the Abbey will produce a Sam Shephard play each season and that Mr. Shephard, whose influences include Irish writers Frank O'Connor and John Millington Synge, will be involved.

Mr. Mac Conghail was giving a talk on the future of the Abbey Theatre at the Harvard Club in New York City. He discussed the recent challenges that have faced the Abbey and noted that the historic institution must not be complacent and that it must reflect contemporary life in Ireland and hold Irish society up as a mirror to its citizens.

The Irish Consulate in New York and Fordham University's Institute of Irish Studies joined the US-Ireland Alliance as co-sponsors of the event. The guest list of eighty people included theater company executives, theater and film producers and critics, as well as a cross section of people in government, media and business with an interest in Ireland and theater. It was noted that the talk was being given near to three theaters currently featuring plays by Irish playwrights - Conor McPherson's Shining City, Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and Brian Friel's Faith Healer.

A recent New York Times article on Mr. Mac Conghail and the Abbey Theater raised the director's profile in the US and abroad. Journalist Brian Lavery wrote that Mr. Mac Conghail, "has commissioned new work that tackles life in contemporary Ireland, and departing from previous practices, he handed those plays over to young directors who previously only dreamed of working on the Abbey's main stage. He appointed Conor McPherson, who had said he felt snubbed by the Abbey, as the theater's 2006 playwright in residence. And directly thumbing his nose at tradition, he declared at least a temporary ban on revivals of classic plays by Sean O'Casey and John Millington Synge, which have long been the theater's staple fare."

But, in thumbing his nose at tradition, US-Ireland Alliance President Trina Vargo pointed out, that Mr. Mac Conghail is actually returning the Abbey to its traditional role of breaking boundaries and defying the status quo, part of the theater's original mission as set forth by the Abbey's founder, William Butler Yeats: "Well-known Irish theater critic, Fintan O'Toole, wrote that the Abbey has been best when it engaged in what he called 'artistic arrogance,' or a willingness to say to its own audience, 'we don't give a damn what you think.'" Yeats did it, and Ms. Vargo noted that Fiach is doing it, and "that was what was needed then, and in some sense, it is what is needed now."