My friend Margaret O’Sullivan has taken me to see three shows at 1st Irish, a five week festival of Irish theater across New York City.   Last Friday we saw both Blood Guilty and Walking the Road at The Player’s Loft Theatre, and on Wednesday we saw the Fallen Angel Theatre Company’s American Premiere of Cell at The Gene Frankel Theatre.

Cell is running through tomorrow evening, and I strongly suggest you see it if you can.  The playwright Paula Meehan spent the 1980s and 90s conducting writing workshops in many of the prisons of the Irish Republic, but it was the women prisoners in Mountjoy Prison that had the strongest impact on her heart and largely inspired the writing of this play.

In her note from the playwright, Paula Meehan wrote, “Of the twelve, mostly young, women prisoners who were in my first writing workshop in the early eighties, only one was still alive ten years later when I went looking for them.  The women I worked with were predominantly ordinary young ones from Dublin’s inner city, of the same class background as myself, often the children of girls I’d been in school with.  They were as bright as many of the students I would have in the workshops I conducted around the same time in the Universities of the Republic.  In fact I would use the very same materials (poetry, stories, dramas) in both venues and world have equally sophisticated responses to the materials from both sets of participants.  The creative writing produced in the two venues would be equally powerful – what the prisoners lacked in academic skills they more than made up for in urgency of utterance.”

Ireland has the highest percentage of people living in relative poverty in the European Union, and the disparity between the rich and the poor is the largest of any European community.  Hiberno-English – also known as Irish English – is the dialect of English spoken in Ireland.  The audience of Cell is provided with a glossary of terms with which to navigate the rich dialogue; I thought it particularly significant that a term for HIV was included in this brief verbal snapshot.  For your Hiberno-English edification, I have transcribed that glossary here:

Irish Glossary

Manky unclean, nasty, gross
Skivvy a female domestic servant
Shag Rough tobacco
Wagon obnoxious woman (see bitch)
Knacker low-life, general scumbag
The Queen of Sheba a girl who believes she is better than others
Crumlin a suburb of Dublin
Bog woman a country woman
Culchie a derogatory term for a country person used by Dubliners
The Mickey male genitalia
Gee female genitalia
Garda station police station
Kip sleep, nap
Loop the looper person who is foolish but entertaining
Glic sly
Lanzarote a Spanish travel destination for Irish and English people
JuJu doll a doll used to cause pain to an enemy
Up to your oxters up to your armpits
She’s codding you describing the act of fooling someone
Gobshite a person of low intelligence who talks too much
Pox merchant a person regarded as dispicable
The Virus HIV

Cell

"A bone to chew! with one of you..."

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