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“The Irish and How They Got That Way” resumes at Capital Rep after a 18-month intermission

Shown L-R- Keven McGuire, Caroline Whelehan. Photo by Doug Liebi
Photo by Doug Liebi
Shown L-R- Keven McGuire, Caroline Whelehan.

We are all familiar with the phrase, “We’ll be right back after the intermission.” Well, for Capital Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Irish and How They Got That Way” the intermission has been 18 months. The show opened on March 10, 2020 and two days later was closed because of the COVID pandemic.

On Tuesday the show returns to Capital Rep. It’s either an act of defiance against COVID, or a gesture of optimism as we return to sort-of normal.

The show, developed by Irish Repertory Theater in New York City and Frank McCourt of “Angela’s Ashes” fame, is a celebration. It features all that is popular within the Irish culture - music and storytelling.

It’s wildly talented cast becomes a pure ensemble who sing happy songs, tell tall tales and honors a sometimes sorrowful history. It could be described as the closest thing to hanging out in a pub in Ireland.

I can say these things having seen the show at its opening in 2020. Two days later on March 12, all entertainments were ordered closed by New York State because of the rampant spread of COVID that was terrorizing The state, the country, and the world. My review never aired.

In a recent telephone interview, Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, Cap Rep’s producing-artistic director and the director of “The Irish…” said, she thought at the time it was a temporary thing and they’d be back rather quickly. After a deep sigh she said, “We all know the history and it isn’t pleasant.”

The temporary pause turned into a permanent closure. A week later the entire theater closed and a staff of 21 people was reduced to three.

With sadness in her voice, she speaks of the human pain the closures caused and the responsibility she felt about something she had no power to control. She admits she still hasn’t completely processed all that has happened.

Rather than dwell on bad memories, she recalled sending each member of the cast an email pledging that when the new theater opened she was going to produce the play in the first season at the new building. She invited them to be in the cast. Within an hour everyone had replied, ‘Yes. I’m in.’”

And everyone kept their word. The cast of March 2020 is intact for this production which runs through December 19.

She says reopening the show with the same cast is therapeutic for everyone.

She includes her audience in that feeling. The advance sale for “The Irish…” was one of the largest in Capital Rep history. She estimates her audience base is over 75% subscribers and this sends the same signal to them that is does to her, the performers and the staff. The theater is back almost where it left off.

Mancinelli-Cahill points out that Capital Rep is under the umbrella of Proctors Collaborative, headed by Philip Morris. He keeps telling her “We owe the people a season.” This means anyone who had a ticket for the 2020 show can use it for this production.

Preferring to hold on to positive memories about the crisis, she applauds her audience base. Contrary to the national trend where patrons asked for cash refunds, the vast majority of her subscribers held onto their tickets or donated the cost of the ticket to the theater.

As an act of good faith to their audience, and a nod to the fact that some people are still reluctant to be inside a theater, the show is being taped. If a person prefers, they will be given streaming access.

Those details are to be announced and will be available for a specific time period and only while the show is running. Those are the guidelines set by Actors’ Equity, who Mancinelli-Cahill says has been extremely cooperative with their regulations.

A show about the Irish might not seem target marketing for Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday season, but this is Albany.

More important, Mancinelli-Cahill points out, it is more than the 30 joyous songs in the production that makes the work such a success.

She believes in the spirit of the piece. There are passages by McCourt, other Irish writers, and actual letters from Irish immigrants that contribute to the more somber passages in the piece.

She says, “They reflect the strength of a culture that has endured constant conflict. As a nation, Ireland has been conquered numerous times and betrayed by politicians and corporations. They endured the potato famine, starvation and the loss of population due to emigration. They’ve endured because of a spirit that remains joyous, despite troubled times.”

She finished the statement saying, “’The Irish and How They Got That Way’ is about resilience. It’s a play for our times.”

It opens Tuesday and plays through December 19. For tickets, schedule information and COVID protocol go to capitalrep.org or call 518-445-7469.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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