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‘Pigeon House’ true to Irish theatrical history

“In PigeHouse” features IrAmyx Katherine Schwartz.

“In Pigeon House” features Ira Amyx and Katherine Schwartz.

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♦ Oct. 17-Nov. 18

♦ Seanachai Theatre at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee

♦ Tickets, $26-$30

♦ (866) 811-4111;


Updated: October 10, 2012 6:00PM

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 Seanachai 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.”

“When I began to write ‘In Pigeon House,’ I wanted to tell 100 years of my family history by using all the history of Irish theater,” Molloy, 51, says. She read through it all from Oliver Goldsmith and Synge all the way up to Billy Roche, Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson.

Molloy also was inspired by the fit-ups so popular in Ireland in the first half of the 20th century. They existed on many different levels says Molloy: “Some were people who simply traveled around on donkeys and did their version of a film like ‘The Informer’ in 20 minutes for very naive audiences.”

“In Pigeon House” (the title comes from a tuberculosis hospital where her father stayed) is comprised of a series of scenes that seem to move through time, playing and re-playing and offering the audience different perspectives. Director Brian Shaw, a longtime member of the physical theater troupe Plasticene, admits it was “a real puzzle to put together.”

“But the language is so energetic and strong, playful and reckless, that as soon as we started working on it I realized how well the scenes built into a strong through line,” Shaw says. “Honor really captures the ferocity and tenuousness of an actor’s life.”

In Dublin, Molloy grew up in a house filled with music, jokes and songs. Her eccentric, extroverted father became well known in the 1960s as the star of Irish television’s first urban working-class soap opera, “Tolka Row.” Her scholarly American mother Yvonne had gone to Dublin to study for her doctorate at Trinity College in the ‘50s, fell in love with Ireland and stayed. She became known for her work in Irish radio producing pieces about the Irish experience as seen through women’s lives.

Together, her parents had a love of theater and the arts and their home was a gathering place for artists of all sorts. “If anybody interesting was in town, they were at our house,” Molloy recalls. “Amazing artists, musicians and theatrical people.”

When Molloy’s parents split up in 1969, her mother left with her six children for Allentown, Pa. The move from exciting, vibrant Dublin to sleepy, quiet Allentown was a culture shock Molloy vividly remembers. “It was a really, really different life coming here and just going to school,” Molloy recalls. “That’s all there was but my mother managed to build something for us that lasted.”

Molloy, who now call New York home, finally decided that the story of her family with its shades of alcoholism, abuse, illness and addiction to theater was just too big for the stage. Molloy’s choice of autobiographical fiction rather than straight memoir came about because she couldn’t determine what was and what wasn’t the truth in her family’s lore.

“I finally understood there was probably a fine line between what was real and what was simply theater,” Molloy says. “As my father always said there’s only one letter difference between lie and life.”

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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