2 months ago

Playwright Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s New Play is Filling the Abbey Theatre

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On a quiet street in leafy, suburban Dublin, local residents meet about a piece of graffiti. Who did it? What does it mean? And what’s to be done about it? They have wine and a quorum. Nothing can go wrong. This Beautiful Village, which runs until September 14 at the Abbey Theatre, is a razor-sharp new play that exposes every side of what it means to co-exist in Ireland today. Set over one night, six people will confront their pride, prejudice and privilege.

The daughter of film, theatre and television actor Garrett Keogh and production manager and costume and set designer Marie Tierney, Tierney-Keogh says she felt as much at home in the public spaces of the Abbey, the Gate and the Project as she did in the family’s semi-D in East Wall. “[Playwright] Tom Murphy often reminds me that I sat swaddled in a Moses basket while my father rehearsed Famine 35-odd years ago,” she says with a smile.

Tierney-Keogh trained with the Lee Strasberg Theatre and The Second City and co-founded the Eden Theatre Company which produced two of her stage plays. She was a member of the inaugural New Playwrights Programme at the Abbey Theatre, and a finalist for the Juilliard Playwrights Fellowship in New York. She has won the Irish Times Theatre Awards Bursary and been nominated for the Stewart Parker New Writing Award, the BBC Tony Doyle Television Award, and the Dublin Fringe Festival Awards. Her work has been performed in Dublin, London, Belfast and New York.

She knows better than anyone the risks involved in trying to eke out a living in the arts. As her father once said, “Work is all consuming. When you have it, you have it. When you don’t, you’re unemployed.” Tierney admits she felt the fear and did it anyway. “During the early years, I blindly kept writing, waiting on tables and working in retail to make ends meet. As I’ve gotten older and invested so much in my craft, the stakes have gotten higher,” she explains. “But I never provided myself with a backup plan,” she admits. “And that was deliberate.”

Despite a bulging contacts book and burgeoning writing career in this country (Tierney-Keogh put on her first play at The Crypt Art Centre at the age of 22), the 40-year-old swapped the security of the tight-knit Dublin theatre community for the anonymity of New York in 2010. “I went from knowing everybody in the industry in Ireland to knowing three people in New York,” she explains. Which must have made the success of her first off-Broadway play, Four Last Things in 2014, all the sweeter. There was no network of industry buddies to seek advice from, no extended family on hand to pitch in and help push her projects along. “I sent out script after script, cold-called and just slogged away,” she admits. She describes, with some feeling, the standing ovation she received on the play’s opening night as an “extraordinary moment of recognition”.

Although Tierney-Keogh recently returned to Dublin with her family, she spoke fondly about her life in New York. The Brooklyn apartment she shared with her husband and daughter was a two-minute walk from Prospect Park. “We had great restaurants on our doorstep – Aurora in Williamsburg and Joe’s Shanghai – but I love dinner parties. I could squeeze 16 guests round our table.” Preferring to scour the city’s treasure trove of thrift stores than shop on America’s “generic” high street, Tierney-Keogh loves Brooklyn’s Olive & Olaf and Chelsea’s Buffalo Exchange. “My favourite piece is a stunning 1940s-style wool coat that cost me just $35.”

“A lot of playwrights are moving over to television, and I’ve always wanted to write screenplays,” she tells us. We have no doubt that whatever Tierney-Keogh puts her hand to next will enjoy equal success.

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