Teresa Deevy, deaf, very talented, draws spotlight after Abbey rebuff

New York (first published 9/14/10) -- Playwright Teresa Deevy, left, would likely be well pleased with the renewed focus her work is receiving these days. The Waterford-born auteur has been dead for 47 years, but one of her plays is on an extended run off-Broadway and Thursday mere talk of Deevy drew more than enough people to fill all 90 seats at a presentation at NYUs Glucksman Ireland House.

Deevy is remarkable for many reasons, but one fact that highlights her undeserved obscurity is her lack of an entry in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia compiled, edited and proofread by Internet devotees worldwide.Even Irish writer and producer Lennox Robinson, not a household name outside of high-brow theater circles, has one. He directed Reapers, Deevys first of six plays at the Abbey Theatre, in 1930, inaugurating a remarkable seven-year run in which she had five more plays produced by this most-distinguished theater company.

Her skein was broken in 1937, when a more conservative mindset at the Abbey led to rejection of her play, Wife to James Whelan. This is the play now on the boards at Manhattan’s Mint Theater, on a run extended to Oct. 3. At Ireland House on Thursday, meanwhile, attendees enjoyed a rollicking presentation by former actress Eileen Kearney, a lecturer in theater at the University of Colorado Denver.

Kearney, who spent part of her childhood in Little Neck, Queens, is an actress who found in Deevys story a Godsend, as Deevy represented a woman whose courage and vision, in the face of disability and male chauvinism, invited a considered exploration and explanation. Kearney wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on Deevy, and shared her observations with the SRO crowd at Ireland Houses first presentation of the fall semester.

Deevy’s oeuvre was extraordinary. According to a biography on The Mint’s website,

“Her plays would show not only a distinct gift for dialogue, but an uncanny appreciation for meaning hidden between the lines. And Deevys work showed great empathy for the struggle of women to find their voices and their way in a world where only mens ambitions had no bound.

Deevy, by the way, never had the opportunity to hear her plays on stage, as she came to playwriting deaf, losing her hearing through Meniere’s disease while a student at University College Dublin. In another irony, after Deevy drew the curtain on her career as a playwright in 1943, age 49, she focused on writing plays for the radio, where even her facility for reading lips would have no obvious benefit.

The Ireland House audience, much more female than even the norm, came in part in response to announcements made during performances of Deevys play at The Mint, according to Eileen Reilly, Ireland Houses director. - WG


* NYU Glucksman Ireland House Events
With Teresa Deevy's ‘Wife to James Whelan,’ a deaf playwright gets ...
* An Irishwoman back from obscurity (The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2010)

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Tags: Abbey Theatre, Arts, Glucksman House, Literature, Teresa Deevy


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