After the reading, discussion with Brighton cast and author

Jim and Jim and Conor
Jim Norton, Jim Nolan and Conor MacNeill

 

Following the reading last week of Jim Nolan’s play Brighton at NYU Glucksman Ireland House, the three cast members (Jim Norton, Gillian Hanna and Conor MacNeill) and the play’s author (Jim Nolan) remained for a discussion with those in attendance that night (including quite a cross-section of Irish actors come to see their friends), including Sean Gormley and Sean Mahon.

George Heslin, the Artistic Director and founder of the Origin Theater Company moderated the discussion, and began by asking Jim Nolan to talk about the development of the play, the inspiration for which came about as a result of an accident the actor John Rogan had, which left him paralyzed.  When it came to casting the play, Nolan said “I don’t think John wanted to play his own life, I think he had been through his own life and his own recovery and he wanted to move on.  He allowed me to spend a week with him, where basically I took him apart and put a version of him back together again.  John came to Ireland to see the play, and I think he was very happy to let another actor do the part.”

With regard to the reading we were fortunate enough to see at GIH, Nolan explained how it all came about:  “An actor friend of mine in London – when he heard that Gillian was going to New York to do The Cripple of Inishmaan – said ‘Whatever you do, don’t let Gillian leave without doing a reading of Brighton.  And immediately and instantly she said ‘yes’, and the next thing I did was ring up some friends in New York and say ‘Would you help me with a reading?’  One of the people I called was George and he said he’s was planning the season and he’d read the play before, and that set the stage for the next part: to put the actors and a director together and through George’s help we were able to get this fine company of actors.  And here’s the really important bit: today’s their one day off and they gave all of this day to spend the day with me on this play for no gain, to help a colleague, and that’s never ever going to be forgotten.”

Turning to Jim Norton (who recently worked in Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive and is now on Broadway in Of Mice and Men), George Heslin inquired – after all the many plays Norton’s read and been in, what it is at this stage of his life and career that attracts him to a play, and he said:  “It’s good writing, if I can identify with the story. The basis of all good theater is good storytelling.  I love this play.  And also because it’s about someone I know and admire, John Rogan.”

Moving on to Gillian Hanna, who has acted in Brighton when it was first produced by Garter Lane Arts Centre and played in Ireland, Heslin asked the actress to talk about her connection to the play.  Hanna explained: “Someone else was supposed to play Lily and couldn’t, so they asked me to do it.  I think they were a bit desperate.  And I just read it and I saw she’s got a lot to say, that’s good, I like that, and I just thought it was great – I love the play.”

Jim Nolan chimed in “She wasn’t the first choice.  The actress who was to play it became very ill and couldn’t do it and we went on the hunt again and extended the hunt to England.  I saw Gillian’s name on a list from a casting agent and what I remembered was not that she was a fine actress, I’d never seen her work, I only knew of her reputation, but I did know her as a translator of Dario Fo’s work, which I had produced in Waterford, and I said if she can act as well as she can do that, we’ll be very lucky.”

group photo

To Conor MacNeill, Heslin said: “You look all of 17, and I was looking at your acting resume which is quite impressive.  When I asked you where you trained as an actor, you said ‘I didn’t’ which is very unusual, especially here in America, so what has been your journey as an actor?”

The 25-year-old Belfast-born actor explained that as a child he used to play the trad flute, and had an aunt who worked as a receptionist at a theater in Belfast.  “They needed a kid who could play the flute, and my auntie said ‘He can play’ and that was it!”

Before opening up the Q&A to the audience, George Heslin finished by asking Jim Norton to talk about his relationship with playwright and director Conor McPherson and what it feels like to work with him.  (Note: It was announced two weeks earlier that The Night Alive had been awarded the New York Drama Critics’ Circle 2013-14 award for Best Play)

With plainly visible affection and admiration, Norton said:  “It’s incredible, I could talk forever about it, because when we did The Weir which was the first play of his I did, it must have been about 17 years ago,  I was at a point in my life where I thought  ‘I really can’t go on in the theater, it’s hard work, it doesn’t pay that much.  I really need to do more television and film.’ hoping I’d get that kind of work.  So I made a decision I wasn’t going to do any more plays.  And then I was sent this play by my agent and I read it and I remember thinking ‘If I don’t do this play, I’ll die.’  Everything I know about acting, and the little I know about life, is in this play.  I know who this man is.  It changed my life because it brought us to Broadway and since then I’ve now done eight plays, and Conor’s written parts for me, which is the most amazing, wonderful gift you can get from a playwright.”
Speaking of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards dinner, Norton said that Conor McPherson was not going to be here and had asked him to go instead and receive it.  He told him ‘But I’m not all that articulate the way you are’ and he said ‘Ah don’t worry I’ll write a few words for you,’ and he sent me this missive thanking just about anybody and everybody who had anything to do with the production!”

Jim Norton
Jim Norton

 

With the floor open to audience questions, Jim Norton was asked if there was any truth to the rumors that The Night Alive was returning to Broadway.  Norton said “Well…. I don’t know.  We had hoped that it would come to Broadway, but you know the way Broadway is, it now has to have stars and we don’t have stars, we just have good actors and that’s not good enough to get onto Broadway.  But there is a movement at the moment to do the play in London.  We did do the play in London, at the Donmar, so now there’s talk, we have a couple of producers interested in bringing it to the West End, and then, by circuitous route, bringing it to Broadway, but that’s up for grabs at the moment.”

Jim Nolan jumped in to add “If I can just say one thing about Conor McPherson, when George told me that he was going to try and interest Jim in joining Gillian and Conor for the reading, coincidentally, I met Conor in Dublin a couple of weeks back and told him about this reading and told him that George was going to approach Jim and, without any soliciting from me – the soliciting would have come later – Conor immediately offered to email Jim and go shotgun for me and you know, he doesn’t need to do that.  He’s not just a great playwright, he’s a huge big heart.  And what he hasn’t ever forgotten is that we are all colleagues, no matter what end of this game you’re at or how much money you’re making, it’s still the theater and that came very simply to him, and then he offered to follow up in any other way that he could, and I just wanted to acknowledge that.”

Jim Nolan was then asked what the odds were of Brighton coming to the New York stage, or being translated to film.  He said:  “’It’s a betting play, there’s lots of references to betting, and you ask what are the chances of it being seen by a wider audiences…This is a very long shot.  As George was telling me today, it’s a terribly tough town to make a play in and to get it staged and I’ve been long enough doing it in my own country to realize that, so I don’t really know what the odds are, but they would be long odds, and I understand that.”

Nolan continued: “As for the movie, our stage manager at lunch today was saying “You should think about a movie.  Did you ever thing about making a movie script?” and you wait for the phone call or the check, you don’t go getting involved in that industry, so I wouldn’t say that there’s the remotest prospect.  But there’s a possibility, however long the odds, of getting it staged in America.  There’s a big heart in America and this play has a big heart, and it dares to put on the stage people like these as Gillian’s character refers to “the frail regiment” and that’s what the elderly are.  As an outsider, my sense of America is that it has the heart for a heart like this, so therefore you remain hopeful.”

Before concluding, one member of the audience asked Jim Nolan about the experiences of the play’s run in Ireland.  He replied that in addition to Waterford, “It had an Irish tour, a series of one-night stands including in a regional theater outside of Dublin.  I do remember when we first opened it being warned by my publicist on the very first production ‘Don’t tell them anything about the nursing home, and say nothing about the lady that’s dying or the man in the wheelchair.’  The very first radio interview that I did I said ‘My publicist has told me not to mention it’s set in a nursing home…’ I don’t care.  This is what it is, and also the fact that these characters can make us laugh while their hearts are breaking, and as they’re heading downhill, I don’t hide that.”

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