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Founded in 2004, Solas Nua is a D.C.-based arts organization dedicated to the production and proliferation of contemporary Irish art. Though it is still a young organization, Solas Nua has already received rave reviews for past productions of Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs, organized the yearly Capital Irish Film Festival, and given away more than ten thousand free works of Irish literature on St. Patrick’s day. This year, one of the highlights of Solas Nua’s programming is a trek up to New York, where the group will premiere a new play, The Prophet of Monto, as part of the third annual First Irish Theatre Festival. Linda Murray, Solas Nua’s artistic director, told us a little about what to expect.
Washington City Paper: So what exactly does Solas Nua do?
Linda Murray: We’re a contemporary Irish arts organization, so theater is one strand of our programming. We also run the Capital Irish Film Festival, which is the largest film festival in the U.S. We run the D.C. Irish Writers Festival, and a big book giveaway every St. Patrick’s Day called Irish Book Day. Last year we gave away ten thousand books and this year we’re aiming for twenty. We have visual arts exhibitions, we have a monthly podcast, and we bring in musicians and do concerts, but theater is where we started in terms of programming and I think its something our audience particularly feels affectionate for. It’s one of the very important strands of the programming that we do.
All of the programming is meant to showcase young Irish artists, to give them a platform in the U.S and just make American audiences aware of them. A side affect of what we do is often having local artists and Irish artists just connecting with each other and creating relationships of their own outside of our organization.
WCP: What can the audience expect to see at the First Irish Theatre Festival this year?
LM: I think there’s a good cross representation of writers at different stages of their careers in the festival. Enda Walsh, who we represented two years ago, for example. Somebody else is doing another play by him this year, and Enda is now becoming a very established playwright. He’s honed his craft and is right at the peak of his capacity as a writer. Somebody else is doing a Connor McPherson play, and of course he’s very accomplished as well. Then you have organizations like my own, where we’re focusing on young playwrights. For John Paul Murphy,this is his first play. He’s mainly a TV writer at home, so this is a new step forward for him. So you’ll get a nice sense of established writers working today in Ireland, as well as young up and coming talents as well. I think that’s something that the festival has done very well in offering over the last two years.
WCP: Can you talk a little bit about The Prophet of Monto?
LM: The play is a love triangle on some levels. There are two characters on stage, a man and a woman, Zoe and Larry. Their link is Larry’ brother Liam, who was Zoe’s boyfriend. It’s their relationships with Liam that are the focus of the play, and the unraveling of what happened to both of those relationships. It’s the dirty secrets that nobody talks about coming out and being aired–that’s the crux of the play. It’s a play about relationships,
It’s also very heavily set in Dublin, so it’s also a play of that city as well. It’s set in a very historic region of Dublin called Monto, and that area is traditionally associated with Joyce, so I think the playwrights consciously wanted to build upon that kind of legacy of writing about characters from that area of Dublin.
WCP: Is there a large group of Irish artists and playwrights in the D.C. community, or do you have to draw them from other places?
LM: There’s not a large Irish population, or even a large Irish American population, in D.C. at all. There’s a small one but nothing sizable–not like Boston or Chicago or New York. In some ways that’s been very freeing for us because we don’t have a population with a set of expectations, so it’s been nice to just show the work and have a diverse population come in and see it. Most of our artists are brought in from Ireland. In this case we have two Irish actors up in New York who are rehearsing and we brought in Des Kennedy, a young director from Belfast, to direct the piece. The playwright will be coming from Dublin when the show opens. So it’s often the case where we’re bringing in artists from Ireland.
WCP: Does collaborating with the First Irish Theatre Festival and performing in New York mark an effort to expand what Solas Nua does outside of the D.C. area?
LM: D.C. is our home, and our first priority is to our audience here. On the other hand, we are in some sense a national institution in that we showcase work that nobody else is really doing and that we’re exclusively focused on a very specific area of Irish culture. Last year we did a co-commission with Tinderbox Theatre in Belfast, and that show toured to New York and Philadelphia. The year before we were up in New York with Disco Pigs, for the first First Irish Theatre Festival. So I think we will definitely continue to do some projects outside of D.C., but D.C. is our home and the audience here is what matters to us most.
The Prophet of Monto runs from Sept. 8 to Sept. 25 at The Flea Theater, 41 White St. in New York, NY. Shows are at 9 p.m. $18.