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Land Of Youth

February 28, 2008

I've been reading Edna O'Brien's 1960 debut novel, The Country Girls. It's a jejeune little coming of age story about a couple of Irish teens who move from the boonies to Dublin to start their adult lives. It reads very much like a first novel and it seems curiously old fashioned today, even though it was banned in its day for being too racy.

The further I progressed into the novel, the more I wondered why O'Brien decided to adapt it for the stage. There's a scene in the first part of the book which takes place in the theatre, but neither the charming, folksy characters nor the Enid-Blyton-grows-up-style story seem to cry out for stage treatment. The bildungsroman format, with its rambling sequences of events and intimate narrative voice, doesn't necessarily lend itself all that well to theatricalization in general. All too often, adaptors resort to crude techniques like having a narrator on stage.

Yet The Magic Theatre in San Francisco is mounting a play based on The Country Girls entitled Tir Na Nog (Land of Youth.) The play is currently in previews and opens this Saturday.

O'Brien, whose previous stage play Triptych, received its world premiere at The Magic Theatre several years ago, has wisely decided to use The Country Girls as a springboard for a theatrical work rather than creating a slavish adaptation of her novel. Whether she has succeeded is yet to be determined (I'm reviewing the show for the Financial Times and SF Weekly next week). But I was nevertheless heartened to read about her approach in a Q&A in last Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle: "When I sat down to write Tir Na Nog, I wanted to invent a world of theater," O'Brien is reported as saying. "Not a book. Not The Country Girls. I gave myself the freedom to write it. I didn't look at the book. I didn't even have a copy of The Country Girls in my house."

The adaptation also features some interesting departures from the novel. There's a new character called The Singing Woman, an ethereal being who O'Brien dubs "The spirit of Ireland" in the Chron interview. The production also counts Riverdance choreographer Jean Butler among the members of its creative team.

Bring on the 1990s. A Martin McDonagh play this ain't, I imagine. But it might make for a fun, whimsical night out at the theatre.


  • My mom and I saw this on Sunday afternoon and we were very impressed! Very entertaining mix of theater and song. (Our opinions have nothing to do with our Irish heritage.)

    By Blogger Kristin Tieche, At March 24, 2008 at 9:20 PM  

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