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(December 14, 2000, Gazette)

West Moon bridges the
North Atlantic

A scene from Al Pittman’s West MoonPhoto provided by the Centre for Newfoundland Studies

A scene from Al Pittman’s 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.

By Pamela Gill

Al Pittman has taken the Irish arts community by storm. But you’d never know it, watching him sit quietly in a small pub in Corner Brook.

As usual, Mr. Pittman is hushed, taking his victory in stride.

“It’s 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 Hallowe’en 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. That’s 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 there’s a great deal of awareness about Al,” said Mr. Livingstone, program chair of Grenfell’s 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 Grenfell’s theatre department.
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 Grenfell’s 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. Pittman’s 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 couldn’t 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.”

(L-R) Dr. Patrick Monaghan, Ken Livingstone, Al PittmanPhoto by Pamela Gill

(L-R) Dr. Patrick Monaghan, Ken Livingstone, Al Pittman at a Corner Brook pub to discuss details of Ireland tour of West Moon.

November Noon
(a poem in progress for Paul Durcan)

I happen to be here (as though I just happento be here) gulping gulps of Jamaican rum
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 “Ryan’s”. A comfortably cluttered den
of heavy, dark wood somewhere out of sight
of the Liffey and the history of all that’s happened
here, nearby, before and since this “terrible beauty
was born. And born utterly.”

I don’t 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 isn’t difficult to imagine that, once
in a blue-moon at noon or any other
once-in-a-while, they might have done.

With painstaking sobriety, I am priming myself
to meet Paul Durcan, the poet. Though it is one
of those occasions not likely to occur, I wouldn’t
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 mother’s last words
to me were “Don’t forget to say your prayers”.
She knows I haven’t said a prayer in ever-so-long.
ever since I got kicked out of the altar boys
at St. Henry’s because I wouldn’t let Father “God”
have any of his wayward ways with me.
Until then, I’d 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.

I happened 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 week’s confetti bleeding rainbows
on the rainsoaked planks of those seven holy steps
to Heaven.

Surely this afternoon I’d 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) “Why’d ya
do that? I’d’ve forgot the works if ya wouldn’t’ve
called my mother a dirty dog!” He and his posse
of apostles stood around muttering laments for what
they’d had to do to make me suffer for the mortal sin
I didn’t 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 mother’s
miraculous mercy. And in time I was healed of all
but the wounds inside. I had harboured nothing
untoward toward Malcolm’s 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 don’t 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 I’d 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 I’m 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 they’ve been answered. She’ll not believe me.
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.

Daddy, Daddy! Where are you now that I need you?

Al Pittman, Dublin, Nov. ’00
This is the publication debut of November Noon.


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