14, 2000, Gazette)
by the Centre for Newfoundland Studies
A scene from Al Pittmans West Moon produced by the Mummers
Troupe, 1980, featuring Rick Boland, Kevin Noble, Sheilagh Guy,
Pat Byrne, Judy Parsons, Jim Payne, Sherri Smith,
Ed Kielly, Janis Spence and Greg Thomey.
Al Pittman has taken the Irish arts community by storm. But youd
never know it, watching him sit quietly in a small pub in Corner
As usual, Mr. Pittman is hushed, taking his victory in stride.
Its an exciting venture, he said about the
prospect of an Irish tour of his play West Moon. As for
the details of the endeavour, he defered the conversation to
Grenfell professors Ken Livingstone and Dr. Paddy Monaghan, who
joined Mr. Pittman at a warm table on a snowy Corner Brook day.
The play, first performed on Halloween night in 1980, at
the LSPU Hall is set in Newfoundland during the time of resettlement
in the mid-1960s. The characters were long dead and buried, but
they came alive on All Hallows Eve to tell the story of the slow
death of rural Newfoundland. The play explored serious social,
political, moral and theological themes with pathos and humour.
The overall theme of the play, was familiar to the Irish, who
are witnessing the steady drain of rural Ireland by the larger
booming centres, said Dr. Monaghan.
Up until this fall, the Irish literary and cultural community
had never heard of Al Pittman. But that all changed when the
three men took a trip across the pond to Annaghmakerrig, Ireland.
Thats the site of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, a house donated
by Sir Tyrone Guthrie to working artists all over the world.
Sir Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971) was one of the foremost theatre
directors of the 20th century. Among other posts, he directed
the Scottish National Players, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre,
the Royal Opera House at Covenant Garden, the Metropolitan Opera
in New York and the Habimah Theatre of Tel Aviv. He also founded
the Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. The Guthrie
Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota is named in his honour.
The house welcomes artists of all kinds to a unique working environment
on 450 acres of forested estate among the lakes and hills of
County Monaghan in south Ulster. There are a variety of workspaces
available to artists, from small illustration studios to large
sculpture rooms. The house has music rooms for composers and
musicians, a large rehearsal and performance space for theatre
groups and musical ensembles, and an extensive library.
It was in this cultural and artistically rich environment that
Ireland was introduced to Al Pittman.
Now theres a great deal of awareness about Al,
said Mr. Livingstone, program chair of Grenfells theatre
program and soon-to-be director of the Newfoundland-Ireland production
of West Moon. There was an instant mutual respect
across the board.
While at the Guthrie Centre, Mr. Pittman thrilled the artists-in-residence
writers, painters, musicians, photographers, film-makers
with a reading from his works.
There was a tremendous comaraderie a meeting of
kindred spirits, said Dr. Monaghan, a professor of environmental
science (chemistry) who is also cross-appointed in Grenfells
Mr. Pittman also found an audience at the Canadian Embassy in
Dublin; he read at a special reception, having been introduced
by the Canadian ambassador himself. The idea to bring Mr. Pittman
to Ireland came about because of a chance meeting between Dr.
Monaghan and Seán McCrum, an Irish arts producer, in Grenfells
art gallery last year. Mr. McCrum was visiting the campus because
of his involvement with Wood: A Sculptural Investigation,
an exhibition that featured artworks by prominent Irish artists
alongside the work of Newfoundland and Labrador artists.
He suggested that we go to the centre to introduce Al to
the artistic community, with a view to mounting West Moon
in Ireland, said Dr. Monaghan. When we arrived, Seán
had already lined up people in the theatre community to meet
us and work on West Moon, like Liam Rellis, the general
manager of the Red Kettle Theatre Company.
The goal is to open the play in Corner Brook and following a
stint in Newfoundland, take the play to Ireland for a three-to-four
week tour. If all goes according to plan, the play will be onstage
next fall. The cast will be filled with accomplished Newfoundland
actors, said Dr. Monaghan, the cream of the crop.
Breakwater Books supported the Irish venture by donating copies
of Mr. Pittmans work for distribution. The Newfoundland
publishing company, which owns the rights to West Moon,
has granted permission to perform the play in Ireland next year.
Dr. Monaghan will co-produce the play with Corner Brooker Rex
Brown, an avid supporter, co-ordinator and producer of arts events
in western Newfoundland and beyond.
Other supporters of the West Moon to Ireland
initiative include Grenfell College, the Canada Council, the
Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council and Canadian Helicopters.
Individuals like Canadian author Michael Ondaatje have written
letters in support of the project.
We couldnt have accomplished anything without the
help of these groups, said Prof. Livingstone. By
working together, hopefully we will succeed in the exchange of
ideas between two very similar cultures.
by Pamela Gill
Dr. Patrick Monaghan, Ken Livingstone, Al Pittman at a Corner
Brook pub to discuss details of Ireland tour of West Moon.
(a poem in progress for Paul Durcan)
I happen to
be here (as though I just happento be here) gulping gulps of
from an English gin glass. Having just arrived
from Newfoundland, I cannot say where in Dublin
I happen to be. Except to be here in a pub
called Ryans. A comfortably cluttered den
of heavy, dark wood somewhere out of sight
of the Liffey and the history of all thats happened
here, nearby, before and since this terrible beauty
was born. And born utterly.
know if James Joyce, Brendan Behan
or Patrick Kavanagh (any of their Irish ilk)
ever darkened these somber, dark doors in search
of such sanctuary, such solitude as this.
But it isnt difficult to imagine that, once
in a blue-moon at noon or any other
once-in-a-while, they might have done.
sobriety, I am priming myself
to meet Paul Durcan, the poet. Though it is one
of those occasions not likely to occur, I wouldnt
want to be an uncontrollable tremble of nerves
should I have occasion to shake his hand hello.
I must remember
to say Pleased to meet you!
other than anything like I am altogether honoured
to make your acquaintance, Mr. Durcan, Sir.
When I left
Newfoundland, my mothers last words
to me were Dont forget to say your prayers.
She knows I havent said a prayer in ever-so-long.
ever since I got kicked out of the altar boys
at St. Henrys because I wouldnt let Father God
have any of his wayward ways with me.
Until then, Id been seeking redemption
for all the sins I hoped to commit if only miracles
occurred and dreams came true. But I could not be
his Corpus Christi to save my soul.
to be ten then, when I said my last prayer.
Then, when I shouted Goddamn you, God! And ran
from the altar rail like a jilted groom through a storm
of tears, some last weeks confetti bleeding rainbows
on the rainsoaked planks of those seven holy steps
afternoon Id not want to tell Paul Durcan
to take his wonderful poems and go to Hell or (worse)
call him a brilliant Son-of-a-bitch. One day after
my excommunication from the altar boys
and the altar (after my heartbroken mother had
laundered, ironed and returned my sutanne) armed
with a rock in either fist, I called my best friend a
Son-of-a-bitch! The next day, down by the brook
below the falls in full Spring, the water flowing by
fringed on either side with thin layers of ice (the finest
lace that ever graced an altar on earth) my friend
and his loyal legion of outlaws ambushed me there
and, having beaten the hell out of me, chanted
(in crude Gregorian) One-two-three! and threw
me over the ice. into the brook.
As I lay limp,
frozen and forsaken half-in-half-out
of the stream, looking up through a waterfall
of swirling sky at a kaleidoscope of gargoyled faces
on shore, blood pumping into the brook
from my broken nose, Malcolm said sadly (with
what I know now to be genuine sorrow) Whyd ya
do that? Idve forgot the works if ya wouldntve
called my mother a dirty dog! He and his posse
of apostles stood around muttering laments for what
theyd had to do to make me suffer for the mortal sin
I didnt know I had committed. Then they left and left
me there in the brook to die.
I managed to
make my way home to my mothers
miraculous mercy. And in time I was healed of all
but the wounds inside. I had harboured nothing
untoward toward Malcolms mother. In truth, then
and until then I had liked her a lot.
All I know
of Paul Durcan are his poems.
And I like them a lot. I dont know his mother
or even if he has a mother or has had one
recently or ever since whenever. I know only
that I have nothing against her and Id not insult her
or call her names for all the world or any of its worth.
So I must be
careful and cautious this afternoon.
And watch my manners. Who knows what sorrow
lurks in the hearts of men? Only The Shadow knows!
And I happen to be one of those who happens to be
afraid of his own shadow. And scared to death
of this or any other dream that could ever come
so miraculously and so suddenly true.
One more gulp
and Im gone to meet an empty seat
or Paul Durcan. Either way, I must remember to send
a postcard to my mother to tell her I said my prayers.
And that theyve been answered. Shell not believe
And neither shall I. Because I dream of dreams and
what happens to happen next night just happens to be
real. And I might be wide awake. And too well unaware.
Where are you now that I need you?
Al Pittman, Dublin, Nov. 00
This is the publication debut of November Noon.