Falu on Foras Road

Falu at NYIFF 2013 Falu on Foras Road

Photo credit: Sachyn Mital


When we chatted briefly at the opening night of the IAAC‘s 2013 New York Indian Film Festival – in addition to discussing her wonderful turns in not one role but two in last December’s Bumbug Musical (she played Mrs, Scroogewala and also Cratcheeta) – the vivacious singer Falu was clearly excited about her latest album, Foras Road, which was just over a month away from releasing.  “It’s traditional music,” she said, “in seven South Asian languages, and it represents a culture that is dying – the courtesan culture – and I’m trying to revive it.”

Well, the album has just released and Falu is performing tonight at the Highline Ballroom.  If you’ve never heard her sign live, you should go – she has this voice that she can shift without effort from a keen crystal peal to something seductively throaty and enveloping.

Note: photo courtesy of Sachyn Mital

Opening tonight: Hard Times

Hard%20Times%20poster%202 Opening tonight: Hard Times

Am very excited and curious to see (and hear) the musical drama Hard Times, which opens tonight at The Cell theater on West 23rd Street in New York.

It’s set in the Five Points area of Manhattan in July 1863.  The location will ring a bell if you’ve seen Gangs of New York  or are currently watching the BBC’s Copper, and takes place during the course of one day in the life of Stephen Foster.

The play’s author is Larry Kirwan, founding member and front man of Black 47.  Here’s how he describes the time and place in which Hard Times is set:

“In July 1863 the Civil War was raging, Gettysburg had just been won, and yet there was major discontent in New York City over the recently enacted Draft, particularly among the teeming Irish immigrant population.  This was compounded by President Lincoln’s perceived change in war policy from defense of the union to emancipation of the slaves – the fear being that thousands of newly freed African-Americans would flood the already saturated labor market.

The discontent boiled over on July 13th and forever changed the city, particularly the notorious Five Points area where up until then African-Americans and Irish cohabited peacefully, sometimes in marital relationships.  Foster lived in the Five Points, famous for its tolerance, loose behavior, music and dancing (Tap evolved there from the fusion of Irish step-dancing and African-American shuffle).

When the smoke cleared from three days of rioting people retreated to the safety of their own ethnic groups; the United States set out on its hundred year path of segregation and racial divide, and Stephen Foster wrote some of his most heartfelt and personal songs, including Beautiful Dreamer, before his penniless death six months later.”

Hard Times will be performed at The Cell, 338 W. 23rd St., NYC from Sept. 13-30th as part of the First Irish Theatre Festival.

For Zohra-ji on her 100th birthday

This is how I first came to know of her:

Lady%20Lili For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

She was Lady Lili Chatterjee of the MacGregor house in The Jewel in the Crown, the wonderful Granada TV serial adaptation of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet.  In that role, Zohra Sehgal was elegant and knowing, the very person you would want to live with on your first outing to a country you’d never visited before.

She left a lasting impression on me back then, as did the entire series and its stellar cast.

JITC%20trio%202 For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

Art Malik, Susan Wooldridge and Tim Pigott-Smith in The Jewel in the Crown


I was thrilled to see her again about 10 years later here:

bhaji%20on%20the%20beach%202 For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

Bhaji on the Beach directed by Gurinder Chadha


This time, Zohra was one member of the Saheli women’s group heading to Blackpool for the day in Gurinder Chadha’s feature film debut Bhaji on the Beach.

And here’s one place where I wished I had seen Zohra, in Tamasha Theater‘s A Yearning, their British Punjabi retelling of Garcia Lorca’s Yerma.

yearning%202 For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

Zohra Sehgal in Tamasha Theater's A Yearning


I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Zohra Sehgal, but in anticipation of her 100th birthday today, I was so very pleased to be able to reach out to those actors and directors she had worked with over the years and hear what memories they wanted to share, including Susan Wooldridge and Tim Pigott-Smith from The Jewel in the Crown, James Ivory, Aasif Mandvi, Gurinder Chadha, Sakina Jaffrey, Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith.  You can read the story here.

Happy 100th Birthday, Zohra-ji.  Thank you for so many years of so many great performances.

James X arrives in New York

James%20X%202 James X arrives in New York

The last time I was at the little theater at 45 Bleecker was to see Colin Quinn doing Long Story Short, his funny retelling of the history of man and all his weaknesses and  imperfections, before it shifted to Broadway.

Last night, I was there for the preview of a drama – James X – that Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne had banded together to bring to New York, and which Byrne had directed.

The one-man-show was written and performed by Gerard Mannix Flynn, a man who endured much abuse in Ireland from age 11 onward as he entered the horrendously flawed system of religious and state-run facilities (industrial schools, mental hospitals, prisons) where he was repeatedly raped and beaten, leaving him a profoundly wounded man when the system tossed him out as he reached adulthood.

The show officially opens tonight for a run through to December 18th, though, when I asked Mannix Flynn yesterday if he’d be spending Christmas in New York, he said “I don’t know.  They asked me to stay and do more plays.” – so the run may well be extended.

Flynn takes to the stage in a tan suit, brown brogues and no tie, clutching a manila folder marked “James X” as he waits to be called to testify about his own experiences at the hands of the court system, the police, state doctors, jailers and the Christian Brothers (who always had a reputation for being fierce, only most of us had no idea as to just how much so).  Nervous, fidgety and now sober and nicotine-free, he turns to us and recounts his story until they’re ready for him.

Assuming a wonderfully heavy inner city Dublin accent, Flynn takes us – oftentimes rhythmically and poetically – through his birth and infancy, into a childhood of many brothers and sisters (14 kids in all) and embattled parents and not enough money, until soon the restless child is escaping from school and running up and down the streets of Dublin, a wild boy, but harmless.  After one too many run-ins with the truant officer and some petty theft, James’ terrifying odyssey begins.

Mind you, all of this is portrayed by the limber fifty-something Flynn in the suit as he becomes the young boy, crouching, rolling, gamboling in circles around the stage, contorting himself, at times face up or face down on the floor, all while a long trail of words tumble out in a mad stream, describing everything right down to the smells and sounds he recalls.  Flynn’s writing takes us inside the head of the child, with a flood of thoughts and internal monologue reminiscent of Ulysses at times.

If you’re thinking that a work like this is just too dark to subject yourself to during such a festive (and often fraught) season, don’t let that keep you from seeing James X.  Even with all Mannix Flynn has endured and the troubled legacy that abuse endowed to much of his adult life, you must come see how it is that he has managed to wrest back his destiny and stand up under a very bright light to tell it all, declaring that this is not his shame, and indeed, his story is his armor.  Moreover, like so many others in the fraternity of Irish writers, even the darkest of conditions never manages to fully obscure the humor of day-to-day life, and even knowing that, I was still surprised by how many of Flynn’s observations did make us laugh last night.

Certain performances include extras.  For example, tonight all ticketholders will also be able to enjoy a post-performance reception, and on other days there will be discussions afterward.

One little bit of trivia for you: the two hearts tattooed on Flynn’s right hand he had done when he was ten years old, for the price of a shilling each.

Give yourself enough time before or after the event to have a look at the Impact exhibit lionining the walls of the theater lobby, which contains a mix of images of Flynn himself from official records, paired with reproductions of testimony about his condition over the years.  (Much of which is also reproduced in a beautiful programme the likes of which you usually never see off-Broadway.)  To study it after having just seen such a warm, intelligent and gifted man on stage re-living the years of childhood terror and confusion and pain, is all the more harrowing, because now you feel you know him.

I couldn’t help but ask Mannix afterward if James X is destined for the cinema screen any time soon and he said “It won’t be a film of it, it will be a film of this (pointing to the copy of Nothing to Say that he’d just signed).  I have a text of it written and ready to go.”

Which then leads one to wonder if he’d be acting in it himself.  “I don’t know yet,” he replied.  “I’ll see what happens in New York.  This is a kind of destination, so, you know, we’ll see.   I might actually just go off and grow carrots.  That’s the kind of person I am, I’ll say ‘Right, that’s enough’ and go off and do something else.  I’ll see what comes out of it.  There’s a lot of potential and a lot of work, so, we’ll see.”

There is a table at one end of the lobby laden with copies of all the reports from the various commissions of recent years since the seeping taint of decades of child abuse in the very Catholic republic of Ireland have come to light.  It was eerie to see this performance last night, just a few hours after this story appeared in the New York Times about the former archbishop of Dublin who has just been accused of “serial sexual child abuse” and, incidentally, on what was The Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Having spent huge chunks of my childhood in the Dublin home of my deeply religious grandfather – where weekly Mass, fish on Fridays and the Angelus chimes ringing out at St. John the Baptist down the road while they were also gonged out on RTE radio and TV were all a regular part of our lives – and where, fortunately for me, I never experienced any of these awful goings-on, it has been ever sadder to see again and again how much abuse took place (200,000 children was the number Flynn mentioned yesterday), at the hands of so many trusted people in power, and how much still continues to be unearthed.  It’s like one of those horror movies with scare after scare at the end.  Every time you think “That’s the last of it,” there’s more.

See it or skip it?

Whatever you do, don’t miss it!  And for the sake of the people away on holidays, hope the run gets extended beyond the 18th.

Also, if you’re at all keen to read Flynn’s memoir Nothing to Say, get a copy at the box office, because it’s not easy to find on this side of the Atlantic, and at $15, it’s cheaper than having it shipped from Ireland.  Maybe they’ll also add the book version of James X in coming days.  One can hope….

D’Arranged Marriage TONY Cricket Controversy

Funny linguistic kerfuffle between Rajiv Varma, star of D’Arranged Marriage, and the folks who do the theater listings at TimeOut New York magazine:

Folks have one last chance (for the summer, at least), to see this action-packed one-man-show with a cast of many tomorrow night at the Triad Theater.

Tonight only: D’Arranged Marriage

darranged%20triad Tonight only: DArranged Marriage

You might have seen a story I did over the summer about D’Arranged Marriage and its co-creators, New Zealanders Tarun Mohanbhai and Rajeev Varma.

The show did a run in the Village earlier this year, then Raj and Tarun had a reunion in London, and more recently, Raj took the one-man show to the heart of the desh (Edison, NJ) and it sold out.

Now, for one night only, tonight, Friday, November 20th, Rajeev is going to perform his Kiwi butt off at The Triad on West 72nd Street.   If the turnout is good (e.g. full house) then the show may get a regular run Off-Broadway.

If you’re still making plans for tonight, I urge you to check it out.

Rajeev pours his heart (and all his electrolytes) into the performance, playing over half a dozen characters as he portrays the story of Sanjay Gupta, who dreams of becoming a stand-up comic.