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Putting on gig theater

Wren Wertin
Special to the Daily"The Hand" takes a 25-year slice of Irish history and delivers it to the audience.
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Donal O’Kelly, Irish stage and film star, is the man behind “The Hand,” which is performed as part of the Beaver Creek Theatre Festival at the Vilar Center Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Friday at 4 p.m.

A master storyteller, he fuses language and music into what he calls “gig theater.”

“Donal is a major figure in modern theater,” explained Matt O’Brien, festival organizer and artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theater in Chicago. “There’ll be one or two performers on stage, and what he does is work with the James Joyce stream-of-consciousness style. And there’s lots of onomatopoeia, so there’s meaning in the sound of the words in addition to the words themselves.”



After seeing it performed in Ireland, O’Brien was moved to tears, he said, because it was so beautiful. Written in the same tone as “Angela’s Ashes,” it takes a 25-year slice of Irish history and delivers it to the audience.

“The Hand” made its debut at the 2002 Dublin Theatre Festival, and was a hit right off the bat. By combining the precision of live theater and the informality of a musical gig, there’s both substance and a careening feeling to the performance. The play is based upon the memories of O’Kelly’s own mother, who wove the memories into an oral tradition for her family. The story revolves around a family’s slide from the comforts of middle-class life to the harsh realities of Dublin in the 1920s.



Told through the eyes and ears of the innocent – yet enterprising – young children of the house, “The Hand” is a moving and very funny tale. It gives a real sense Dublin in 1920.

O’Kelly is also responsible for two solo plays, “Bat The Father, Rabbit The Son” and “Catalpa,” which won a Scotsman Fringe First Award in Edinburgh, shared the Critics’ Prize for Best Event at the Melbourne International Festival and played to rave reviews in Washington, Toronto, Chicago, London and Copenhagen, as well as all over Ireland. “Bat The Father, Rabbit The Son” was an acclaimed hit in the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival and in New York, and was nominated in the Best Writer and Best Actor categories of the Irish Theatre Awards. O’Kelly is joined on stage by flautist Ellen Cranitch, percussionist Brian Fleming and actress Sorcha Fox. Tickets for are $35 and are available by calling 845-TIXS (8497) 11 a.m.-5 p.m. or by visiting http://www.vilarcenter.org.


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