||Sean Branney, Leslie Baldwin
John B. Keane (Playwright)
was one of Irelands most prolific and respected literary figures. John B. was born in 1928 in Listowel, County Kerry where he spent his literary career, running a pub which provided him with inspiration for his characters and ideas. His first play, Sive, was presented by the Listowel Drama Group and won the All-Ireland Drama Festival in 1959. It was followed by another success, Sharons Grave, in 1960. The Field (1965 adapted to an Oscar-winning film in 1991) and Big Maggie (1969), are widely regarded as classics of the modern Irish stage. But it was not just in his plays that John B. Keane managed to portray all aspects of humanity with both wit and truth. He also wrote many fine novels, including The Contractors, A High Meadow and Durango. Keanes essays, short stories and letters have been published in numerous volumes. In 1999 he was presented with a Gradam medal, the Abbey Theatre's highest award. He was a member of Aosdána and the recipient of honorary doctorates from Trinity College, Limerick University and Marymount College, New York. John B. died on May 30, 2002 at the age of 73, after a long and difficult battle with cancer.
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If you should ever have the chance to see the All Ireland Football Finals, in many ways it looks like any other major sporting event. Croke Park is filled with thousands upon thousands of fans; tickets simply arent to be had. Television commentators make their predictions and add their pithy insights as the teams take to the field. The players themselves wear uniforms festooned with logos of car manufacturers and electronics companies. Theyre celebrities, heroes of their home country and the nation as a whole. And when the match is over and the All Ireland champions are crowned, when the celebrating is through and the glorious day is ended, the players go back to work.
At the highest level of Irish sport, the players are still amateurs. Theyre butchers and salesmen, bartenders and priests. They have day jobs and lives beyond the game. These arent men who feel an entitlement to multi-million dollar contacts and sneaker endorsements. They are the best of the best at their sport, playing all-out at the games highest level. But, like the lads in The Man from Clare, when the game is done they return home and prepare to go back to their day jobs. Virtually all of the players in the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) are amateurs who make their livings through day jobs.
Playwright John B. Keane fits right into this paradigm of the amateur-master. He was one of the most widely read Irish authors of the 20th century. His novels, plays, short stories, essays and letters achieved world-wide acclaim. One of his plays became and Oscar-winning film. He received honorary degrees from several universities. But despite his vast acclaim and broad popularity, at the end of the day, John B. would return to day job: running a pub in his home town.
Throughout most of his life, John B. ran a pub in Listowel, a small town in the northern part of County Kerry. He was a huge fan of GAA football and played the game for years. Standing on the pouring side of the bar served him well as a writer; he tuned his ear to charming vernacular of his customers. His stories tend to be about regular folk dealing with the kinds of difficult circumstances and choices that life regularly brings.
We were attracted to this play by its simplicity and honesty. Like Death of a Salesman it begs the question of how do we survive when we lose the pillars that hold up our lives. But unlike Arthur Miller, Keane answers the question with a glint in his eye and the irrepressible Irish impulse for survival through humor. And a drink.
The pubs still open, by the way, and the Keane family welcomes you all to stop by for a pint and a bit of craic when youre in Listowel.
Gene and Toni Bull Bua
Sharon & Ken Baldwin
Keith & Christina Reynolds
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