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Scenes of emigration in DruidMurphy

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Entertainment,Barbara Mackay

The Kennedy Center is presenting three plays this week by one of Ireland's most renowned modern playwrights, Tom Murphy, performed by one of its most celebrated theater companies, Druid Theatre.

"I don't know if Murphy is that well-known outside Ireland," said Aaron Monaghan, who appears in all three plays.

"The idea of this project was to celebrate Tom's genius and showcase his work internationally. These plays are not a trilogy, but they're connected in the sense that they share a common theme of emigration.

"In 'Conversations on a Homecoming,' an Irish immigrant comes home from America in the 1970s to revisit his old town, which he left 10 years earlier," said Monaghan. "Among other things, the play is about a man who goes away to find a better life, then realizes that he can't go home."

Onstage
DruidMurphy: 'Conversations on a Homecoming,' 'A Whistle in the Dark,' 'Famine'
Where: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW
When: Wednesday through Saturday
Info: $35 to $65; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

"A Whistle in the Dark" takes place in England, where an Irishman has moved and offered lodgings to three of his brothers, but when their father and youngest brother announce that they are coming too, tensions become unbearable.

"Famine" is set in County Mayo in 1846 and is about the mass emigration that happened after the great potato famine.

"I suppose the idea of putting these plays together was for people to see where we as Irish people have come from within the last century and a half," said Monaghan, "and the effect emigration had and is still having."

Critics always bring up Murphy's ability to blend issues of faith, hope and the drive to endure.

"Tom often talks about his duty as a writer to deal with how it feels to be alive, and all those things are part of being alive," said Monaghan. "Talking about ideas and acting on ideas link these plays. In 'Whistle' you have two brothers and a father who are at odds with one another about bravery and cowardice.

"In 'Conversations' there's a similar discussion about ideals, what is real, what is fantasy. In 'Famine' the struggle of the patriarch to do what's right ultimately brings about the downfall of an entire village. There's a continuing argument with us about doing the right thing.

"After doing these plays for seven months now, I'm still flabbergasted by how beautifully Tom writes, especially about what it's like not to be able to articulate something. Ironically, he writes brilliantly about how it feels to be unable to express oneself through words. Tom is without a doubt our greatest playwright. His work cuts to a deeper level than that of any other Irish writer."

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