Oct. 10, 2003
Controversial Production Raises Questions about Ireland Conflict
Murder, violence and betrayal — these are central themes in CUA’s adaptation of “At the Black Pig’s Dyke,” a play by Irish playwright Vincent Woods that caused a furor in Ireland when it premiered there in 1992. The CUA performances, sponsored by the Department of Drama, will be held at Hartke Theatre on Oct. 16-18 and Oct. 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct. 19 at 2 p.m. Woods will attend one of the performances.
“At the Black Pig’s Dyke,” is set on the border dividing Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland and chronicles how three generations of a family are suddenly devastated by the anger and hatred that run along the border.
These emotions are unleashed by the arrival of a group of Irish mummers — masked actors fusing ancient Irish, Scottish and English performance traditions — who roam the countryside. When they arrive at a house, the mummers act out skits that often mirror the conflict between nationalists (those who favor Northern Ireland’s separation from England) and unionists (those who favor the region staying a part of the United Kingdom).
The play initially opened to controversy in Ireland because it was perceived to have strong unionist overtones. After a performance in Derry — site of the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” massacre in which 13 people were killed when the British army fired on a crowd of demonstrators — protestors jumped on the theater’s stage to voice their displeasure.
But, says Patrick Tuite, a CUA assistant professor of drama, the controversy has diminished since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord, and the play is now seen as an important addition to Irish dramatic literature. Tuite is serving as “dramaturg” for this play — the one who ensures that it is being presented in a theatrically and historically correct way.
“I had read the script many times,” he says. “I’ve always been fascinated by mummers because they show that there was a dramatic tradition in Ireland before the 17th century, when the British began establishing large plantations in Ireland. So when I first came to CUA last year, I thought it would be nice to bring the production here.”
The CUA production is significant for being one of the few U.S. performances of “At the Black Pig’s Dyke.” It’s also being held in conjunction with the regional gathering of the American Conference for Irish Studies at the University of Maryland College Park (where Tuite will present a paper about mummers). On Oct. 25, CUA will transport about 70 conference attendees to campus to see the play. Representatives from the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C., will host a reception at Hartke Theatre to celebrate the production and the ACIS event.
Tickets are $12 for adults; $8 for senior citizens, CUA staff, faculty and alumni, and groups of 10 or more; and $5 for children and CUA students.
“It’s a terrific piece of drama,” says CUA Vice Provost Christopher Wheatley, a professor of English who saw a performance of the play in Ireland a month after it premiered. “The way it combines Irish music and dance with the art of ‘mumming’ makes it a stunning work.”
“We have such a powerful drama department, an important Irish studies center and a strong Irish Catholic presence here,” Tuite says. “It only makes sense that we would have a play of this magnitude here.”
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