"That kind of lit a fuse of some sort in my brain," says Hudson, who was born and raised in Dublin. He began doing research in the hope that local theater troupes would be interested in a collaboration. "I thought maybe I could come up with about 50 plays or so to suggest," he says. "By the time I was finished, I had a list of about 1,000."
After teaming up with Hansen and directors Frank Melcori and Vic Browder, Hudson began shopping his idea around to the theater companies. That list of a thousand was cut down to a handful, and Browder and Hansen ended up leaving the committee to work on producing and directing two of the selections.
This left Hudson—who’s working as a dialect coach on the plays—and Melcori with a large task. "It's very much a shoestring affair," Melcori says. "We had no funding. It was just our pushing the idea. So it existed halfway between heaven and Earth, so to speak." But it took shape in early February with Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, directed by Marty Epstein at The Vortex Theatre. It’s the first of five plays in the inaugural Southwest Irish Theater Festival.
Melcori says he traveled to Ireland 40 years ago and was inspired by the quest for freedom he saw in Irish writing and culture. "Their plays in a way are their declaration of independence," he says. "Not that all of them are political, but that's where they found their voice—the identities of both the rural and the cultural elements of Ireland."
With the exception of one entry, all the plays are by contemporary playwrights. McDonagh is the most well-known name among them, making Inishmaan a fitting introductory piece to the festival. It details the rise to fame of a young disabled man living on the Aran Islands—one the last outposts of the Gaelic language—as a documentary team comes to film this time-lost way of life. McDonagh's works tend toward dark and devilish comedy. “His plays always strike me as feeling like really, really painful ingrown toenails,” Melcori says. “It's stuff that comes from within that can't get resolved when it finally pops out or puses out or whatever—there's usually a lot of damage done by that time. At the same time, he has a way of characterization that the people are real and it's not about formulaic violence."
Also opening March 9 is Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, a story about a group of Dublin men sitting around a house on Christmas Eve, drinking and playing cards. While the play has its laughs, the tone turns ominous as a mysterious guest shows up to join the match. "It has a slightly Faustian kind of flavor to it," says Hudson. "There's pretty clearly a character in there who's the devil come back to claim his due." Mother Road Theatre Company takes this one on at The Filling Station, under the direction of Gil Lazier.
The final contemporary play is Marina Carr's Woman and Scarecrow, beginning March 16 at Desert Rose Playhouse, and directed by Georgia Athearn. This is perhaps the most downbeat of the festival's offerings. It considers a dying woman who's lived a cold and emotionally closeted life. In the spirit of rural Irish storytelling, questions of spiritual and mythical doom abound.
The last selection is Lennox Robinson's comedy from 1933, Is Life Worth Living? This one tells the story of a simple seaside town that's caught off guard when a foreign troupe comes in and puts on plays by the likes of Chekhov and Ibsen. Brian Hansen will be directing at the Adobe Theater, starting March 23.
The entire undertaking of the festival seemed massive at first, but both Melcori and Hudson say they now see it becoming a recurring event. “The way it’s been accepted and implemented,” Hudson says, “leaves me at least some room to think that we might be able to do this every two years.” The co-producers of the fest hope to see mid-20th century works by Brendan Behan and Seán O’Casey in a future iteration.