Bottom Dog Theatre Company have announced their 2017 season which marks 9 years of making professional theatre in Limerick.
The company who secured a coveted Best Actor award for their international debut in New York in 2015, is returning to Irish stages in the coming weeks, for their first new main stage production since their co-production of Animal Farm with Limerick Youth Theatre last summer.
The first production of the season Drinking in America, by New York playwright Eric Bogosian, is a Drama Desk award-winning one-man play from the 1980s but which has yet to be performed here. It receives its Irish premiere from Limerick’s leading theatre company, who in late 2015 received the city’s highest civic honours in recognition of their contribution to Arts and their roles as cultural ambassadors for Limerick both here and abroad.
It also sees the return to the stage of Bottom Dog’s Artistic Director and actor Liam O’Brien, playing 12 distinct roles in his most challenging performance to date. In an acting career that has taken him worldwide with the likes of Edward Hall’s Propeller Shakespeare company, the West End production of the Rat Pack and of course several years starring in ITV’s Emmerdale as curate Ethan Blake, Liam has focused largely on producing and directing for Bottom Dog since 2012.
Five years since he last performed in a Bottom Dog show, O’Brien says the time just felt right to get back on stage in Limerick. His success in applying for a small theatre bursary from Limerick Arts Office, also allowed him to contract New York director Patrick J. Byrnes and musician Stephen Ryan (windings/giveamanakick) to collaborate with. He said: “It felt like an exciting opportunity for both myself as a performer but also for Bottom Dog. To try something new. To showcase a play never seen here. And to kick off the 9th season with something dynamic by working with a new director, and involve Steve (Ryan) much deeper in the creative process than we ever had before. We’re grateful to the Arts Office for their support which facilitated these collaborations.”
Choice prize nominated musician Ryan who previously wrote original music for the company’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, What Happened Bridgie Cleary and The Bachelor of Kilkish composes again. However this time he will also perform live on stage, adding an exciting onstage dynamic with Liam as he interacts sonically with the various characters and scenarios – itself another first for the play in production.
The play, described by the New York Times as “a breakneck, hair-raising comic tour of the contemporary American male psyche”, features O’Brien in a multitude of different parts from a grasping showbiz hustler; a latter-day Willy Loman on the road to a ghetto junkie. Though the material was written and performed first in the mid-1980s, O’Brien cites the rise of Donald Trump as one of the main reasons for choosing to perform it. Continuing he said:
Continuing he said: “When we first looked into producing the show, Trump had been nominated as the Republican candidate for president. The play had been sitting on my shelf for a decade. I loved it but often thought perhaps it was too dated to perform. But then I started hearing the words Trump was using. I was seeing the kind of vitriol he was generating. I was witnessing all the sorts of negative addictions – both literal and metaphorical – that I thought America had left behind, rising back to the surface. So there sat a play which hadn’t felt that relevant over the years, feeling more immediate than ever.”
Director Patrick J. Byrnes had worked on one of Bottom Dog’s famed rehearsed readings briefly in 2011 and was a natural fit for the show which was written by one of his contemporaries while growing up in New York in the 1980s, Eric Bogosian. Patrick is an accomplished director and actor himself, and most recently can be seen in Oliver Stone’s award nominated film, Snowden.
Playwright Bogosian originally starred in his own one-man plays, but Drinking in America has since been performed by other actors in Brazil, Italy and Poland but not yet in Ireland. Bottom Dog are delighted to host the Irish premiere in Limerick city, but as always will be touring to the county playing at Friar’s Gate in Kilmallock and to our neighbours in Listowel, at St. John’s Arts Centre.
Drinking in America is Bottom Dog’s first production of the year but is only kicking things off. They also highlighted several forthcoming projects, which form part of their 9th season.
A 9th season brings a 9th annual series of rehearsed readings. A highlight of the theatrical calendar the readings, which have taken residence at One Pery Square Townhouse for the past few years, have allowed 32 plays to be staged since 2009. Over 25 directors and over 120 different actors have come together to rehearse and perform readings of the world’s great play scripts each year. Grouped by a theme such as last year’s Four Love Plays or 2014’s apt centennial Four War Plays, this year (under the guidance of Myles Breen) the theme is the theatre itself. Four Theatre Plays kick off in One Pery Square on Sunday, February 26th at 8 pm, and every subsequent Sunday for the following three weeks. Casts and directors will be announced shortly but plays include Chekhov’s The Seagull, Coward’s Hay Fever and, starring Breen himself, The Dresser.
A brief glimpse was given to Bottom Dog’s next full production which debuts in May and will be a site-specific production of ensemble member John Murphy’s play Smallone. The play, first produced in 2006 in Dublin and later in Paris in 2010, will be a new production, this time directed by Murphy himself and featuring local actress Michelle O’Flanagan. John Murphy said:
“We were approached by Michelle who wanted to stage the play and Bottom Dog were delighted to offer to produce. When I revisited it, I felt compelled to do something different with it, and the idea struck to stage it in a site-specific location in the city. It’s very much a new production and though I look fondly back on its first outing, we want to explore what’s new we can bring to the table this time. When I directed Tom MacIntyre’s What Happened Bridgie Cleary in the basement of a snooker club, we brought something out of the play that hadn’t been there before and it had a profound effect on audiences and the performers themselves. We are after the same feeling with my own play this time”
Monday’s launch was very much a celebration of what the company has achieved over the last 8 years but even more so a statement of intent for the future with several projects planned, and several applications pending support. With the landscape of Arts funding changing in Limerick, there seemed to be a positive belief in the need for resourced theatre in the city and the financial backing that innovative, and risk-taking theatre needs to thrive.
Bottom Dog’s Myles Breen said: “When we first set up Bottom Dog, we were at the beginning of a recession. Companies, like Island, were being cut all over Ireland. There was a feeling of confusion and palpable loss. From those feelings came our first season in 2009 which included Language Unbecoming A Lady, which we had great success with internationally. We’ve won awards, been nominated for much more, toured the length and breadth of Ireland, but our desire to tell stories, old and new, is more powerful than ever.
When we received a Civic Reception from Limerick Council in recognition of our contribution to the Arts in Limerick over the last 8 years we felt a renewed sense of energy. We felt that the council, and the citizens they represent, value what we do. That we all want a professional theatre company based in Limerick, and that we, in fact, need and deserve it. Clearly, as we launch this 9th season, we’re inclined to agree!”
Bottom Dog Theatre Company was founded in 2009 and has been at the forefront of professional theatre in the city with its annual seasons of rehearsed readings, collaborations and main stage productions, including their Irish Times Award-nominated productions of What Happened Bridgie Cleary and The Revenger’s Tragedy. They have toured productions to over 25 venues nationwide, internationally and this brief upcoming tour of Drinking In America includes:
Feb 7/8/9 – Belltable, Limerick
Feb 11 – St. John’s Arts Centre, Listowel
Feb 17 – Friars’ Gate Theatre, Kilmallock
For further information on Drinking in America click here
To read more about events in Limerick click here