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Irish Plays in Vienna

Werner Huber

This project sets out to explore the reception and reception history of Irish authors and their plays in Viennese theatres. Three notable exceptions have to be made at the outset: Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett as more trans-national or inter-national dramatists will be given special consideration in other projects. It is important to understand, however, that making these exceptions already highlights the special nature of the definition of what constitutes an Irish play.

Irish drama and theatre has traditionally defined itself as being committed to Irish subjects, themes, motifs, characters, locales etc. — in other words as expressing, if not branding outright, Irishness as a cultural commodity. In the age of the Celtic Tiger, globalisation and the idea of a world-wide Irish diaspora strongly militate against such self-centredness and self-reflexivity. In a recent essay on Irish theatre and identity, the playwright Declan Hughes delivered a broadside on the backwardness of Irish theatre today: "I'd like to see Irish theatre embrace the profound change that has occurred: that we are barely a country any more, never have been and never will be that most nineteenth century of dreams, a nation once again; that our identity is floating, not fixed. I could live a long and happy life without seeing another play set in a Connemara kitchen, or a country pub." This problematic issue is all the more virulent when an Irish play is translated/transplanted/translocated and produced in a 'foreign' cultural context. What are the expectations regarding the play's 'Irishness' in theme and content?

The case of the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh quite interestingly emblematises the aporias and dilemmas of cultural transfer in his own œuvre. In The Pillowman (Akademietheater, 2003), McDonagh gave up the familiar settings of his earlier plays, i.e. the 'True West' of Ireland, for a vaguely Central or Eastern European context and the theme of a writer in a totalitarian state, thereby abandoning the successful formula implied by a pastiche of the Irish peasant play or Irish kitchen-sink drama, as, for example, in his The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Drachengasse, 1997) or The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Burgtheater, 2001).

The focal point of this study will be the various ways in which images of Ireland and Irishness condition the reception of Irish plays in Vienna. The methodology will be cultural-studies-oriented with a predominance of "imagology" (the study of national images and stereotypes). It is expected that the results of this research will contribute to the current debate on the global vs. the local and probe into the valorisation of trans-national, if not universal, subjects and thematics through processes of acculturation and inter-cultural exchange.

Partners for international co-operation:
- CDE: German Society for Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English;
- Irish Theatrical Diaspora Project (Prof. Nicholas Grene, Trinity College Dublin; Prof. Michael Kenneally, Montreal; Prof. Peter Kuch, Dunedin).


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