Silver Apples A-Growing in the McKiernan Library
One of the eerie werewolf-like metamorphoses that sporadically convulses the McKiernan Library is its transformation into a theatre venue. Who is the culprit responsible? The guilty party is the resident troupe of actors and writers who create devised and collaborative works: Celtic Phoenix Theatre. Their most recent foray was the production Silver Apples of the Moon: The Strange Genius of W.B. Yeats (co-directed by Sarah Kiani and Patrick O'Donnell) which premiered to a jam-packed full house at the 4th Irish Arts Week on Monday, May 6, 2019, after taking shape in a looser form at IMDA's Landmark Center earlier in March.
The production offered a meditation on the four passions animating the imagination and life of the great Nobel Prize-winning poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939): his immersion in Celtic myth, folklore and romance; his love for the formidable Irish nationalist and beauty, Maud Gonne; his determination to articulate an Irish cultural nationalism; and, his determination to evoke a mystical depth beneath our material universe.
These themes interwove their way through the production’s depiction of his poetic journey and psychological maturation as he changed from being a high Victorian Romantic in the 1880s, to a framer of the Irish Literary Revival and the Celtic Twilight through the late 1880s – 1890s up to the founding of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, to a more caustic assessment of Ireland’s flaws in the 1910s-1920s, culminating in a sensual yet apocalyptic sensibility in the 1920s-1930s as the new Irish state was born following the Easter Rising of 1916, the War of Independence from 1919-21, and the Treaty creating the Free State in 1922. Yeats recorded the intensely private, the eerily mystical, and the public political dramas in his relentlessly lyrical and restlessly innovative verse thereby giving voice to an emerging Irish nation and creating himself and “making his soul” as a world-famous Irish national poet. Appropriately, he received the Nobel Prize in 1923 after assisting Ireland’s emergence on to the world’s stage.
This play combined devised theatre scenes such as Maud Gonne reacting in exasperation to one more letter sent from the persistent poet to her in Paris to animated theatrical performances of the keynote poems in his canon of works such as "The Song of the Happy Shepherd," "The Stolen Child," "Down by the Salley Gardens," "The Hosting of the Sidhe," "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," "The Song of Wandering Aengus," "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death," "Easter 1916," "The Second Coming," "The Rose Tree," and "Death".
Because the show was a devised production, individual cast members could offer individualized and unique perspectives. Local architect Dan Gleeson’s father - a well-regarded newspaper editor of the Tipperary Nenagh Gaurdian - knew Yeats well in the 1930s, and thus Dan could speak directly to the audience about his father's friendship with Yeats and the poet’s work at the Abbey Theatre. John Concannon, an impassioned researcher into Ireland’s nationalist struggle, offered spirited historical contexts to the more explicitly nationalist poems.
The cast consisted of Patrick O'Donnell, Sarah Kiani, Kathy Luby, Jane Steiner, Fred Stemborg, Naomi Karstad, Mariam Kiani, Dan Gleeson, Eddie Owens, and John Concannon. The production will appear in the McKiernan Speaker’s Tent at the Irish Fair of Minnesota at Harriet Island on Aug 10-11, 2019.