Last night, some 150 people gathered at Glucksman Ireland House in the Village for a dramatic reading of Jim Nolan’s play, Brighton, as part of Origin Theater Company’s Mondays of May series, intended to bring European theater to a wider audience. What made that experience even more of a treat for those of us fortunate enough to have been in attendance, was the stellar line-up of Irish actors who had come on their one night off from their respective Broadway productions to do the reading.
The trio comprised Jim Norton (fresh off his success in Conor McPherson’s award-winning The Night Alive and now starring in Of Mice and Men), Gillian Hanna and Conor MacNeill (who are currently working together in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan). The event filled the main drawing room at GIH, and spilled over into two additional rooms in the house.
Jim Nolan’s play, which was published in 2010 and has toured Ireland, is set in a London nursing home and revolves around Jack (Jim Norton), an actor in London who is paralyzed following an accident, Lily (Gillian Hanna) the unfailingly upbeat resident at the Sisters of Calvary nursing home, and Dave (Conor MacNeill) the young aide who cares for the residents.
Jack has just arrived at the Sisters of Calvary and wants nothing to do with the other residents, he is understandably angry at the turn his life has taken and he has withdrawn so far into his shell he’s almost disappeared. But after a few interactions with the feisty Lily, and much good-humored care from Dave, the prickly shell Jack has encased himself in begins to soften. Soon we are wrapped up in the day-to-day concerns of the three: Jack’s struggle to adjust to life in a wheelchair, Lily’s following of her beloved football club and writing her memoirs, and Dave’s on-again, off-again romance with Enzo, a struggling actor from Malta.
The play and the reading of it were marvelous. In spite of being set in a place that most of us hope to avoid ever entering, and with two main characters who are facing their own frailty and mortality, all of which would seem to add up to a rather depressing scenario, the opposite of all that couldn’t have been more true. Jim Nolan has endowed Lily with a seemingly endless font of warmth and can-do attitude, and she manages to find the positive side of every situation. For Jack, the playwright has given him the gifts of word play and humor (often dark), and he has some of the best one-liners and sobriquets for those around him. And in young Dave, Jim Nolan has created a young man with a big heart whom many would wish for their brother or son, and certainly the sort of person you would want to have caring for you, were you to ever land up in a nursing home.
In last night’s performance, all three actors were wonderful. Jim Norton gave just the right amount of hauteur and distance to his Jack, Gillian Hanna brought Lily alive with verve and even if you didn’t watch her reading and just listened, you could practically hear the twinkle in Lily’s eye, and Conor MacNeill managed to convincingly bring the large-hearted London aide, Dave, to life (then again, I don’t think he had to act much against type).
Brighton is funny, moving and a story with great heart. I sincerely hope it will have a chance to run in New York. In as much as events like these really make you treasure living in here in Gotham, it would be a shame if those of us in attendance last night were the only ones ever to enjoy Jim Nolan’s play.
Up next: what the author and the actors revealed during the discussion after the reading.