You’d think I’d be used to the nerves by now but it’s always the same. My stomach’s in bits, my legs are like jelly, actually no my legs are fine… I can win this, I could win this like. I’ve been getting firsts all year, AND I’m in fourth year AND I’ve a nice set dance that I’ve actually been like, practicing, in front of a mirror, in this like, studio thing, proper practicing like…
Everything you ever wanted to know about Irish step dancing and more is to be found in the charming The Humours of Bandon. It’s an entertaining autobiographical solo play written and performed by Margaret McAuliffe.
The blonde, animated and spunky Ms. McAuliffe portrays 16-year-old Dublin resident Annie who’s been dancing since childhood. Wearing tights, a T-shirt and a varsity jacket, McAuliffe’s delightful characterization is marked by wise girlishness. She alternates between playing Annie, her sturdy stage mother, friends, and a few incidental characters, all with detailed verve and a pleasing accent. Her writing is a concise breezy amalgam of factual details, well drawn figures, and momentum.
In the course of an hour, we learn about Annie’s past triumphs and defeats, her injuries, the setup of competitive step dancing and there’s the suspense of the big contest. It’s reality television with dashes of Rocky. There is also some bravura dance sequences showcasing McAuliffe’s dazzling skills. The Queen songs heard are a rousing and atmospheric touch.
The intimate black stage is bare except for a small white platform that scenic designer David Fagan provides. Director Stefanie Preissner conjures up a visual whirlwind with her vigorous staging on this spare landscape accompanied by artfully simple lighting. There are recordings that simulate the sounds of announcements at dance matches bringing an authentic tone to the piece. Ms. Preissner has McAuliffe in a variety of positions and in perpetual motion with precision. All of the presentational aspects are perfectly integrated with the dancing.
Step dancing is a national pastime in Ireland and The Humours of Bandon shows us the gritty behind-the-scenes heartbreak of it and that Riverdance is a glamorous and realistically unattainable pinnacle for most of its practitioners.
The show is produced by the acclaimed Irish theater company Fishamble and it has toured throughout Ireland, Wales and was performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This American premiere is presented by New York City’s Irish Arts Center. It will then tour throughout the tri-state area at Irish cultural institutions.
The Humours of Bandon (through April 14, 2019)
Tours to New York Irish Center, Long Island City (April 16), Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens, Mineola (April 17) and Irish Cultural & Sports Association of Southern Connecticut at Whitneyville Cultural Commons, Hamden, Ct (April 18)
Fishamble: The New Play Company
Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.irishartscenter.org
Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission