When Inis Nua — a local theatre company focusing on plays solely from Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales — puts on the first show of its 19th season, many of its elements will seem familiar, but for extraordinarily different reasons.
Yes, the Philadelphia premiere of the offbeat post-prison dramedy, ’10 Dates with Mad Mary’ starring Anna Faye Lieberman comes from an Irish-Pakistani playwright, Yasmine Akram. But this first show of the Inis Nua 2022-2023 season is a pop-up play at Fergie’s Pub where you can drink in tandem with the drama rather than sit quietly and observe.
If theater in a bar sounds familiar, that’s because Kathryn MacMillan all-but invented the plays in a pub format for Philly, and now, has added the job of being Inis Nua’s new Artistic Director. MacMillan succeeds Tom Reing, who has retired, and is also in the director seat for ’10 Dates with Mad Mary’.
“As my father used to say, colloquially, it’s like drinking out of a firehose,” said MacMillan, laughing, in regard to how often Philadelphia has heard from her in a post-pandemic rush of theatrical showcases. “And now I find myself with this unique opportunity to lead Inis Nua through its next phase.”
With what she calls “many little theater homes” in Philadelphia, MacMillan reminds us that having some Irish blood in her further forwards her mission. “All of this is close to my aesthetic and who I am as a person.”
Beyond ’10 Dates with Mad Mary’, what MacMillan wants to do first is engage with Inis Nua audiences, some of the city’s most devoted, and reassure them that all the things they love about the theater company, she does too.
“I have been a fan of Inis Nua as long as its forever audiences have, so what you love will be there, but new leadership at a time of world chaos… times have changed throughout “the new normal” and perhaps there is a need for reinvention. For every theater company, not just Inis Nua. So, there will be stories from the British Isles and Ireland, but told in a way that is more muscular, unique and sometimes a little bit radical. An amped-up Inis Nua, if you will.
Faye Lieberman is plenty ‘amped-up’ for the new Inis Nua, especially since she was a student of MacMillan’s at the University of the Arts. Lieberman says she is thrilled to have been graced with the trust of her director and this audience to tell this tale.
“This is a really vulnerable piece of theater,” says Lieberman. “Mary is very guarded. I get to lean into all of that angst and all of her anger and fear and share that with the audience. That’s why I got into this business in the first place – to tell stories, the more-bare bones the better. And Philly is going to love Mary.
A pop-up play without sets and lights, ’10 Dates with Mad Mary’ is about the direct connection between performer and audience.
“It’s all story,” says MacMillan. “There’s a dramatic irony in this play, a woman with a violent past who makes the audience her own, and goads them with “You get it. You’re on my side. They’re the idiots.” But we see that she is a young woman with a lot to learn. She self-sabotages herself quite a bit, and we see that… which goes well with an audience member strong-arming a beer.”
’10 Dates with Mad Mary’ runs from Oct. 26 through Nov. 6. For information, visit inisnuatheatre.org