While slouched over a bar top with liquor in hand, it’s easy to get caught in an intimate conversation—sometimes in front of a staged audience.
In Fergie’s Pub on 1214 Sansom St., Philadelphia-based theater company Inis Nua is featuring “Hooked,” a play that ventured to American shores from Dublin, Ireland. Inis Nua, which translates to “new island,” is the only theater company in the United States that exclusively features emerging works from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Tom Reing, an adjunct instructor of theater at Temple, founded the company in 2004 after seeing plays in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Traditionally, plays born in Europe cross the Atlantic Ocean after running in London’s West End, eventually premiering on Broadway and then regional theaters.
Reing decided to transfer them to the Western Hemisphere himself.
“These four cultures have such a rich history of storytelling,” Reing said. “… Being the juggernaut that America is, we kind of think we’re the only name in town as far as English language goes.”
In its infancy, the troupe performed a single annual show at the FringeArts Festival, but has evolved over the past 11 years into a three-show-season company.
Delving into “Hooked,” written by Gillian Grattan, Inis Nua finds itself returning to its roots, as the company frequently performed in local pubs and other small spaces during its early years.
The company initially intended for the productions to be performed at The Drake in Center City, Inis’s home stage. Due to prolonged construction of the venue, the play ended up at Fergie’s.
The setback, however, worked in favor of the show’s plotline. As a monologue play, “Hooked” centers around three characters telling a story. Due to the lack of character interaction, the play is easily adaptable to an unconventional theater space.
“I equate [the story] to being in a pub sitting next to someone you don’t know who has had a little too many and starts telling you a story,” Reing said.
Theater-goers will experience this familiar scenario through three cast members who are scattered among different seats at the upstairs bar, allowing audiences to be part of the story.
Reing stumbled upon the play this past winter after Fergie’s owner, Fergie Carey, saw the production in Dublin. Walking out of the show, he immediately texted Reing suggesting “Hooked” as a prospective project for Inis Nua.
“The play was brilliant,” Carey, the president of theater company Brat Productions, said. “[Reing] always reminds me that it’s very dark, but I just remember it being really funny.”
Carey, the show’s honorary producer, said the humor in “Hooked” makes the material particularly novel because a majority of Irish plays involve major tragedies like murder, rape and suicide.
While providing comedic relief, the play approaches sociological themes, challenging stigmas about people of rural Ireland being uneducated and naive.
“It’s pushing against the stereotypes of stock farmer characters of Ireland,” Reing said.
Reing has directed the actors to make eye contact with audience members, enabling a connection that couldn’t be achieved if performed in a traditional theater with bright lights.
This intimacy shifts the concentration to the story as opposed to the spectacle.
“Doing [“Hooked”] here works well,” Carey said. “You’re relaxed in a pub while the theater happens around you.”
Grace Maiorano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.