Danahey on the Loose with ‘Spinning’ playwright Deirdre Kinahan

(left to right) Dan Waller, Carolyn Kruse and Jodi Kingsley in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.
(left to right) Dan Waller, Carolyn Kruse and Jodi Kingsley in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Meanwhile, while I barely have to get out of bed to start my work-at-home day job and sometimes feel like I barely have time to get things done (at least before I get real hungry or thirsty or the lawn needs mowing), Dublin-based playwright Deirdre Kinahan says she’s had a crazy couple of years.

“It’s a roller coaster, and I’m enjoying the ride,” she said.

Kinahan is in town this week to see what the Irish Theatre of Chicago is doing with her 2014 work, Spinning.

No, it’s not a musical about yarn and the role it played in the 1916 Irish rebellion cast with non-Irish actors for maximum Broadway razzle dazzle.

Here’s how the press release describes the drama:  “Conor is fresh from prison, grasping at the threads of his life. Susan is grieving the loss of her teenage daughter. Two lives collide in a seaside cafe and are forever changed. Deirdre Kinahan, playwright of the acclaimed Irish drama Moment, masterfully unspools a gripping contemporary tale over three distinct timelines in this U.S. premiere.”

Kinahan – a DIY sort – started her own theater company with a buddy back in the late 90s and at one time wanted to be an actress. So she is familiar with what goes into mounting a production.

(front, left to right) Dan Waller and Tyler Meredith with (back) Jodi Kingsley in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.
(front, left to right) Dan Waller and Tyler Meredith with (back) Jodi Kingsley in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

In her role as writer visiting a production elsewhere – as was the case recently in Warsaw – that can mean just taking in the work, shaking some hands and heading back home.

In Chicago,  though, Kinahan said she is here to embrace the troupe’s vision of what she put to paper and offer helpful elements and notes.

“I am involved to the point of letting them know what was going on in my head,” Kinahan said.

Spinning is the second of Kinahan’s plays to be produced in Chicago, with Moment staged three years ago by Steep Theatre.

“That was a fantastic experience,” Kinahan said. “It was a good production and they captured the pace and the emotion. By the time I came to see it, the audiences had warmed to it.”

American theater troupes and Chicago companies in particular have a good deal in common with the Irish approach to staging plays, Kinahan said, and that’s the case in Washington, D.C, where Studio Theatre recently staged Moment, which critics described as a kitchen sink drama in high definition.

“Americans are comfortable in a visceral reality and with an emotional intensity that Irish writers like to create,” Kinahan said. “And it Chicago that has been exemplified by troupes such as Steppenwolf and (Pulitzer winning writer) Tracy Letts.”

Kinahan feels her works translate to stages across the world because she deals with universal themes and empathetic characters.

“I try to get to the core of the humanity of the people talked about,” she said.

Her works look at families, explore domestic themes and souls who are trying to find or take control which oft-times is a futile exercise, Kinahan said.

With Spinning, Kinahan looks at divorce and its dynamics, particularly in Ireland where it has only been legal for a relatively short time – and where it is part and parcel of a changing country.

“I also like to give my audience something to do, so there is a bit of mystery about this play,” Kinahan said.

Given that the plot involves homicide of one form or another, Kinahan said, like her other works, Spinning explores life’s gray areas – and in this case, what happens when love turns and people try to take control.

As for her own whirlwind life, Kinahan’ latest play, Wild Sky, commissioned by Meath County Council Arts Office, was written in commemoration of events  leading up to the 1916 Irish Rising and premiered this spring at various venues.

Kinahan also has  written for The Royal Court and Bush Theatre in London, as well as Fishamble Theatre, Abbey Theatre, Civic Theatre, Project Arts Centre, Tall Tales and Livin Dred in Ireland.

Things took off, she said, after Moment played in London and became a hit there.

“I’m in an orbit I didn’t know existed,” she said. “And I’m finding the more I write the better I get at it.”

To that end, Kinahan already has won numerous playwriting awards, including  a Fringe First for Halcyon Days in 2013 and the Tony Doyle Bursary with BBC Northern Ireland in 2009.  She is the recipient of the Jim McNaughton Tilestyle Bursary 2013, A Peggy Ramsay Award 2014 and Arts Council of Ireland Commission Award 2015.

Carolyn Kruse and Dan Waller in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.
Carolyn Kruse and Dan Waller in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Kinahan was a founding member and Artistic Director of Tall Tales Theatre Co. for 15 years and now sits on the Abbey Board and on the Stewart Parker Trust advisory committee whose mission is to encourage new writing for the stage.

She currently is under commission to  London’s Old Vic Theatre, New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club and Dublin’s Fishamble Theatre Company. The play in the works for the New York group  is set in Leningrad during World War II and involves a scientist.

She is co-writing her first feature film with the support of the The Irish Film Board and has another feature in development with BLINDER films, Dublin.

The former is a collaboration with Ian Fitzgibbon who played Father Jessup in Father Ted and whose directing credits include episodes of the award-winning Irish sitcom Moone Boy. The script thus far is about three brothers and a deep trauma, Kinahan said.

There has been a learning curve working in movies for the first time, Kinahan said.

“I think in terms of theater,” she said.

And don’t expect any superheroes running about or any big Hollywood explosions in whatever transpires on the big screen.

“I run from formula,” Kinahan said.

The ITC production of Spinning is running at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, through Sunday, July 3.

Curtain times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Regular run tickets are $26 Thursdays/Fridays, and $30 Saturdays/Sundays. Tickets for seniors and students are $5 less. For tickets and more information, see www.irishtheatreofchicago.org.

 Dan Waller and Carolyn Kruse in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.
Dan Waller and Carolyn Kruse in Irish Theatre of Chicago’s U.S. premiere of SPINNING by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Joanie Schultz. Photo by Emily Schwartz.