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Archive for Thursday, September 23, 1999

IRISH ACTORS LIKE TO GET PHYSICAL

September 23, 1999

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Barabbas " the company uses a clown technique rooted in Eastern European tradition.

Raymond Keane, one of the founding members of the Irish performance troupe Barabbas " the company, believes words sometimes weigh down a theatrical production.

That's why he and the company's other founders use the "physical approach" when they bring plays to the stage.

"It's a truthful way for us. First, it's the movement and then it's the psychology," he said, during a recent phone call from Dublin, Ireland. "Eighty percent of our communication is nonverbal. " We're good at lying with words, but you can tell if you see their gestures."

Keane and three other actors -- founding members Veronica Coburn and Mikel Murfi and independent actor Louis Lovett -- will demonstrate their brand of physical theater when they bring the family comedy "The Whiteheaded Boy" this weekend to the Lied Center. The four-member cast performs 12 different roles during the three-act play.

"The Whiteheaded Boy," written by Irish playwright Lennox Robinson, was first produced in December 1916 by The Abbey in Cork, Ireland.

"It was a big hit then," Keane said. "It's about a dysfunctional family, but it's been done in a straight way all these years. It's been produced dozens of times in Ireland. Now, we've reinvented it."

The plays tells the story of the Geoghegan family -- a mother with six children -- whose livelihood is jeopardized by the youngest son, Denis, when he fails his medical school exams. The family plans to send him in disgrace to Canada after he breaks off his engagement. The family's schemes are eventually thwarted when Denis marries his fiancee and takes a job managing a shop.

Keane said Robinson was a "genius in construction" because the play builds toward a climax that is followed by a denouement, a technique later used by 20th-century playwrights Noel Coward and Lillian Hellman.

"It's wrapped up in a neat parcel," he said, referring to how the show ends.

Keane said the company approaches each of its productions with the "theater of the clown" in mind.

"It's not the street or the circus clown, but it's in the East European tradition. They have the same naivete, but they act as if they're in the real world," he said.

For example, in theater of the clown, the clown might be unemployed and go to the social welfare office.

"It's the most honest exhibition of an actor," he continued. "You find the clown within you. It's not someone taking on a new persona."

Barabbas " the company was founded in 1993 and introduced a year later at the Project Arts Centre in Ireland. The company received 10,000 pounds, its first grant from the Ireland Arts Council, to produce and stage three shows back to back for more than a month.

The production ended up costing 25,000 pounds, but it allowed the company to show off its talent to Ireland's theater world.

"It nearly broke us, but the effect was to put us on the arts map almost immediately," Keane said.

Although the company has performed and conducted workshops throughout Ireland as well as in London, Wales and Denmark, this is its first trip to the United States. In addition to Lawrence, the troupe will be performing at five other venues, including the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City.

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is jbiles@ljworld.com.



AN IRISH TALE

Who: "The Whiteheaded Boy," by Barabbas " the company.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Lied Center.

Tickets: Available at the Lied Center Box Office, 864-ARTS; Murphy Hall Box Office, 864-3982; Student Union Activities Box Office, 864-3477; KU Medical Center Bookstore; and Ticketmaster outlets, (785) 234-4545 or (816) 931-3330.

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