Very rarely in the Tri-Cities do we have the opportunity to experience a world premiere of performance art.
Right now is one of those moments, as a creative team of local playwrights, musicians and the theater department of Tri-Cities Prep presents the musical, Guns of Ireland.
Guns of Ireland is a jukebox musical, but don’t let the term “jukebox” fool you; the storyline of this play is one of history and deep emotion. It is along the same lines as Les Misérables or Miss Saigon. This story, along with traditional Irish songs from the 17th century up through the 20th century, provides an incredibly moving piece of theater.
In Guns of Ireland, two pivotal points of Irish history happen on stage at the same time: the Wexford Rebellion of 1798 and The Easter Rising of 1916. The audience can see this as soon as they step into the theater. On the right side of the stage, an ancient stone wall descends from the ceiling, on the left, a wall of red brick. These walls meet in the center, joined together by a beautiful stained glass window of a Celtic cross. The well designed set, along with the historically accurate costumes, help guide the audience through what is happening during each time period. It is a beautiful example of how important well-designed technical elements of a show can greatly contribute to the story.
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It is clear the playwrights, Jeffrey David Payne and Mike Speegle, have worked meticulously to ensure the Irish songs chosen for the show work hand-in-hand with the plot. The songs are so powerful that the lively tunes and festive dancing seem to overpower the dialogue at the beginning of the production. The ensemble of actors are fully committed to their characters, but it took some time for their energy to match the music and dance. It wasn’t until boisterous Micheal Dwyer (played by Jordan Mayle) entered the scene that the overall acting energy picked up, and then all of the characters seemed to fully come to life on stage.
Once that energy was established, it was much easier to understand the dialogue, which is beautifully written. Each character in this story has their own distinct voice. And that’s no easy task, considering the large list of historical figures in this musical.
Some of the standout performances include those of Mayle, Zach Slater as Father John Murphy, Gillian Gormley as Moll Doyle and Bridget Hohl as the Countess Constance Markeivicz. Emma Stewart’s performance as a grieving and newly widowed Kathryn O’Donohue at the end of Act II, along with Jackson Speegle’s performance as Patrick, Kathryn’s young son, moved many in the audience to tears.
A refreshing and moving element of this production is the attention given to both the men and the women who lived, fought and died during these two rebellions.
Often, the sacrifices made by women are overlooked when stories of war are brought to life on the stage or screen. But the playwrights of Guns of Ireland, along with music director Nina Powers, ensured the women’s stories were told by creating a beautiful, original musical piece, Statue of Me. The song, along with the women of the cast singing, Come Out Ye Black and Tans, in Act II, are two of the most powerful moments in an incredibly powerful show.
If you want to be a part of a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience, I encourage you to take time to be drawn into the world of Guns of Ireland.