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.