Tuesday was a day of one-women shows at The Gene Frankel Theatre; and two storytellers weave stories that transport you to Ireland and Argentina.
Writer: Erin Layton
Director: Julie Kline
MAGDALEN transports you to busy 1940’s laundry room in Dublin, Ireland run commercially by the Irish Catholic Church. The girls who are handicapped, a bastard or abused orphan, and unwed pregnant women were forced by society to live and work without pay for the church. These girls are penitent, forever sinners and their hopes for a saving grace are void.
Erin Layton give a magical performance, in which she also penned, and gives each character a voice to their silent past.
ARTSY FARTSY SHOW: How many dialects do you perform?
ERIN: I perform (or attempt, I should say:) 3 different Irish dialects in MAGDALEN – North Dublin for my male narrator, County Galway for my Reverend Mother and South Dublin for my penitent girls. The dialects were entirely arbitrary. I wanted to find dialects that were easily identifiable between a mid to low class Irish (the penitents and the hostel owner) to higher class Irish (the Order). I listened to a dialect tape that recorded conversations with people from different regions of Ireland and watched films and documentaries with people from Dublin, specifically.
ARTSY FARSY SHOW: How did you first find this story of the Good Shepard Sisters and why did you decide to do it as an one-woman show instead of a full cast program?
ERIN: I read about the Good Shepherd Sisters in a book called “Do Penance or Perish” by Frances Finnegan. I found their mission and vision for “saving the souls” of these penitent girls frightening and horrifying but also oddly persuasive. They truly believed that they were doing God’s will by forcing these girls and women to do slave labor amongst the many other atrocities they purposefully exposed them to. I initially chose the solo show format as a way to showcase my work as an actor but the more I perform this play, the more I realize that the solo show really serves the story. Performing MAGDALEN as one person drives the narrative of the piece which is that no single character stands alone – they are all complicit in each other’s narrative, from the modern day Irish hostel owner to the priest to the disabled penitent girl. Ireland is a small nation and the mystery of the Laundries even smaller. All the characters hold within them a secret of the Laundries that feeds the other and they all revolve around the image of the little penitent girl in the drab robe and worn apron – which is me.
ARTSY FARTSY SHOW: The topic on Tuesdays Artsy Fartsy Show was about producing and balancing life and art. How did you balance your writing, rehearsing, producing schedules with your day job to prepare for MAGDALEN.
ERIN: Tough! Fortunately, the writing of MAGDALEN has been going on for well over two years with only one full year of actual script/performance development. With the Fringe, it was taxing to figure out how to maintain my physical energy so that I was able to work during the day and then hit the ground running in rehearsals at night. Thanks to Kickstarter, the one piece and major piece that I did not have to worry about was money. I created a Kickstarter page for MAGDALEN and was able to raise all the money that I needed to pay my very talented production crew. This allowed me to really throw myself into the art of the work and spend two to three weeks with my director, Julie Kline, crafting, structuring and molding MAGDALEN into the story that we wanted to tell. She and I have been molding different drafts of MAGDALEN for over a year now. It was hard to strike the balance between focusing on the development of the piece while producing, promoting, getting the word out. Fortunately, I worked with Molly Pearson who runs a company called Produce Your Own Work and she held me accountable to dividing up my time so that I was able to give the producer and performer/writer self room to do the work and to breathe. I worked with a wonderful producing manager and publicist who helped me and helped the show immensely. There’s way more that I wish I would have done as the producer but as a first shot I think it has worked out well.
Artsy Fartsy Show chatted with Erin after the show about the 2009 Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse or better known as the Ryan Report. The Ryan Report was a national inquest to find the extent and lasting-effects of abuse in Ireland’s institutions from 1939 onward.
I did not but now that you mention it, I would love to check this out. MAGDALEN was inspired by the discovery of bodies on a sold Laundry property in Dublin in 1996. Over 133 bodies were found. I’m not at all surprised that there were more bodies found. It’s all indicative of the Church trying to cover up this black hole of Ireland’s history.
ARTSY FARTSY SHOW: What was the process of researching for the play? What was most fascinating in your research?
ERIN: I traveled to Ireland in 2010 to research the abandoned Laundry sites. I spent my time in Dublin with a visit or two to the country. Justice for the Magdalenes, an advocacy group for the survivors of the Laundries in Ireland and the U.S. assisted me in my research when I went to Ireland. For the most part, I would visit an abandoned building or cemetery and talk to locals along the way who had had exposure to the Magdalene Laundries. The most fascinating part of my research, aside from the actual research material – the books, the films – were the conversations with the Irish people. Several people I spoke to either flat out told me to not write a play about the Laundries or expressed their deep shame over the girls or their background growing up in Catholic Ireland. I met my modern day narrator, Reid, inside an abandoned laundry building that he had converted into a hostel for young heroin addicts in North Dublin. He was the most generous person I met as far as sharing his honest experience with the penitent girls and the Laundries. He told me several times that he never really knew what happened behind closed doors.
GIRL IN AN ARGENTINE LANDSCAPE
Writer: Naomi Grossman
Director: Richard Embardo
THE GIRL IN AN ENTINE LANDSCAPE is actually Naomi Grossman’s first one-women show that she is re-mounting just for us, lucky New Yorkers. Last year, I loved her delightful play, CARNIVAL KNOWLEDGE, about her luck with love. THE GIRL IN AN ARGENTINE LANDSCAPE, Naomi relates her coming of age as a Israeli-Norwegian teen with a Latin heart through cubism, modernism, surrealism and impressionism. She escapes her Lisa Simpson life to be an exchange student in Argentina where she goes to the end of the world to find herself.
Naomi’s wit and stage presence are a real treat to experience.
If you get a chance here is her interview on the Artsy Fartsy Show Tuesday, August 14