The Entertainment Outlook
By Tom Deignan
Movie theaters, Broadway and concert venues across much of the U.S. remain closed because of the Coronavirus. But from TV dramas and documentaries, to streaming concerts and plays, there is still plenty of entertainment with Irish and Irish-American flavor to be had.
And don’t forget all those great books, which have always been a favored form of entertainment among social distancers.
After a two-year break, the TNT drama The Alienist returns for a second season on July 26. It’s official title is The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, which works in both titles of the Caleb Carr novels on which the show is based. The Alienist is set in 19th Century New York and features a wide range of Irish immigrant cops and criminals among the supporting cast. Meanwhile, New Jersey-born Irish American actor Brian Geraghty (Hurt Locker, Boardwalk Empire) portrays Teddy Roosevelt, who served as New York City police commissioner before becoming president.
In 2018, Geraghty told Irish America he hit the history books hard to find a unique way to portray the younger Roosevelt. “What we didn’t want was the Theodore Roosevelt we know, the guy on Mount Rushmore. We wanted a guy on the way up, which was a little more challenging.”
The first season of The Alienist explored the dark side of New York street life in the 1890s, during a crime spree which left a string of young street boys dead.
The show’s main character is Dr. Laslo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl), who has developed ground-breaking scientific crime-fighting techniques. The new season revolves around the kidnapping of a newborn baby. Dublin native David Wilmot will be back as a corrupt NYPD captain, while actor Ted Levine portrays famous Irish immigrant detective Thomas F. Byrnes.
But don’t look too closely at all of the “Irish” characters in The Alienist. One of the main bad guys is Paul Kelly, based on the real-life New York gangster who went by the same name. But “Kelly” was actually born Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli. He changed his Italian name to better fit in with all the Irish crooks around him.
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness begins July 26 on TNT.
A new documentary about the short life and powerful work of Irish American literary giant Flannery O’Connor has just been released and is available for streaming. Entitled “Flannery: The Storied Life of the Writer from Georgia,” the 97-minute film premiered on PBS on March 23. Directed by Mark Bosco and Elizabeth Coffman, the film comes at a fascinating time. O’Connor’s deeply Catholic faith, isolated life and southern settings made her stories challenging, and downright strange. All the more unlikely, then, that she would become one of the most celebrated writers in recent American literary history.
“O’Connor is now as canonical as (William) Faulkner and (Eudora) Welty,” a recent long New Yorker article noted. “More than a great writer, she’s a cultural figure: a funny lady in a straw hat, puttering among peacocks, on crutches … (Her) farmhouse is open for tours; her visage is on a stamp. A recent book of previously unpublished correspondence, “Good Things Out of Nazareth” (Convergent), and (the new) documentary … suggest a completed arc, situating her at the literary center where she might have been all along.”
But writer Paul Elie then goes on to note that O’Connor’s southern upbringing, and her writings about race, have led to a re-examination of O’Connor’s work. Either way, the new documentary is the latest chapter in this fascinating writer’s life, and features original interviews with Mary Karr, Hilton Als, Alice Walker, Tobias Wolff, Tommy Lee Jones, Alice McDermott and others, alongside archival interviews of friends and family, and a brilliant segment about Irish American Hollywood legend John Huston’s efforts to turn O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood into a film.
Stream “Flannery:” The Storied Life of the Writer from Georgia at flanneryfilm.com.
Starting July 21, the Irish Repertory Theatre will be streaming a performance of Conor McPherson’s celebrated play The Weir. Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, this new production of The Weir features Dan Butler, Sean Gormley, John Keating, Tim Ruddy, and Amanda Quaid.
Set in a rural pub in Ireland, an outsider becomes entangled in the locals’ messy lives and haunting stories. Things only get weirder when it turns out the outsider may have the most frightening story of them all. The Wall Street Journal once hailed McPherson’s play as a “profound meditation on the twin themes of loneliness and community, told so theatrically that you’ll savor each peat-scented flavor.”
The Rep’s version of The Weir, which runs through July 25, is a new production that was filmed “remotely from quarantine and designed for a digital experience,” according to producers.
You can also watch an interview with McPherson, conducted by Irish Rep Artistic Director Charlotte Moore and Producing Director Ciarán O’Reilly, at the Irish Rep website, as part of their impressive “Meet the Makers” series.
For details on The Weir, and other Irish Repertory Theatre projects, go to irishrep.org.
On August 9th, the Irish Arts Center will stream a concert recorded at Dublin’s Grand Social, featuring The X Collective, made up of artists from Ireland and elsewhere. Expect an impressive blend of “neo-soul, pop, and a range of genres,” according to the Irish Arts Center. Featured performers include Celtic Woman performer Chloe Agnew, and Dublin singer-songwriter Ele Brelsin, who performs as Zapho. The concert is part of the “At Home with the Irish Arts Center” series.
For more details go to irishartscenter.org.
A Very Punchable Face: A Memoir
Colin Jost is most famous as co-anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, where he also serves as one of the head writers. He has now written a funny new memoir entitled A Very Punchable Face, which explores his path to comedy’s A-list, as well as his upbringing on Staten Island, where his Irish American mother tried to push him into a career with the New York City fire department.
Many of Jost’s cousins and other family members work as firefighters, and his mother, Dr. Kerry Kelly, is the FDNY’s chief medical officer.
Irish novelist Joseph O’Connor has a fascinating new novel out, entitled Shadowplay. It looks at the early theatrical career of celebrated Irish author Bram Stoker, and what may have inspired him to create the immortal book (and character) Dracula.
Irish writer Roddy Doyle – who also has a tender, new Dublin novel out called Love – recently told The New York Times that Dracula was one of the books anyone who wants to learn more about Irish literature should read.