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“Tomáseen Foley’s Irish Times” Is a Lively Blend of Irish Folk Tales, Stories, Music, and Dance

The Kirby Theater Performing Arts Series presented "Tomáseen Foley's Irish Times" on March 16th in Kirby Civic Auditorium in Roxboro, NC

The Kirby Theater Performing Arts Series presented "Tomáseen Foley's Irish Times" on March 16th in Kirby Civic Auditorium in Roxboro, NC

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex. She is also a member of the Person County Arts Council; but she wrote this review at my request, because I thought that this March 16th show should be reviewed and there were no other critics available. — R.W.M.

Some people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with green beer in pubs, while others gather for a home-cooked boiled dinner with a juicy hambone, white potatoes, and a large head of cabbage. But Triangle theatergoers in headed to the historic Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC to hurtle back in time with Irish folk tales, music, and dancing. Tomáseen Foley’s Irish Times show visited the theater on Friday, March 16th, for a one-night show, just in time for the St. Patty’s Day holiday.

Irish Times opened with a rousing Irish jig, performed by two young dancers currently competing on the world stage. The award-winning dancers stepped and leaped, Riverdance style, across the stage as if a puppet master controlled their movements from on high. Behind them, seated in simple chairs on a backlit stage adorned with a reflected Celtic knot, three musicians created a lively song in much the same way as Irish musicians have done in parlors throughout Ireland for hundreds of years.

Clad in rough wool pants, suspenders, and a plain collarless cotton shirt, as his Irish ancestors may have worn while gathering peat from the bog, emcee and storyteller Tomáseen Foley acted as a narrator of sorts for the evening. Born on a small farm in the remote parish of Teampall an Ghleanntáin in the West of Ireland, Foley also directs the troupe, and has toured the world with this show, as well as A Celtic Christmas.

Sitting to the side, he looked on as his troop of five performers took turns demonstrating traditional Irish dances, playing Celtic folk music, singing, and cracking jokes with each other. When he took center stage, it was to relate a tale from his childhood or story relevant to Irish folk history, usually beginning with, “My dear grandmother told me ….” His tousled white hair and affable smiling face epitomized the stereotype of the Irishman most Americans would recognize as “from the old land.”

The well-timed meshing of storytelling, dance, and music enthralled the Kirby Theater audience; and they soon began beating the floor with their own enthusiastic footsteps as the troop drew them into the world of Irish mists, foggy lowlands, and mythical creatures described by Foley in his homespun stories. When Foley finished a quick tale, singer Kathleen Keane followed with her soaring clear voice and the lilting sounds of her world-renowned flute.

Keane’s tin whistle has been heard on the soundtracks of such movies as The Road to Perdition (Tom Hanks), Backdraft (Ron Howard), and Cinderella Man (Russell Crowe). Her glossy dark hair and bright green eyes underscore her Chicago-Irish background, but her skill on the tin whistle and the violin speak of her love for her family’s native land.

Kathleen Keane is a multi-talented artist. Not only does she sing and play several instruments, but she also is a world-renowned dancer, trained by the famed Riverdance choreographer Michael Flatley.

Accompanying Keane was the Grammy Award-winning guitarist William Coulter, whose fingers flew over the frets in frantic pace to deliver a syncopated sound that kept the audience’s toes tapping. Coulter is known for a collection of Henry Mancini songs played on guitar entitled “The Pink Guitar,” which won a Grammy in 2005. More recently, he has produced a CD entitled “The Road Home,” which is a critically acclaimed solo project. He has been performing and touring for more than 20 years.

But the most interesting music of Tomáseen Foley’s Irish Times was produced by an instrument called the Uilleann Pipes, played by Brian Bigley. Like the bagpipes, the Uilleann Pipes relies on a bellows system, only this instrument’s bellows are placed under the player’s arms, thus Bigley must coordinate his two elbows and alternately squeeze each of the bellows in order to produce a continuous sound.

Bigley comes from Cleveland originally, and has worked with various pipe-makers to learn the ancient art. He now makes his own instruments, and is an accomplished reed-maker. In addition, he is world-class Irish step dancer, having competed at the World Championships in Glasgow and Killarney.

Though some might compare Tomáseen Foley’s Irish Times to the Riverdance spectaculars, this group of talented musicians, dancers, and singers performs a more down-to-earth and neighborly show, which is perfect for the smaller venues, such as the Kirby Theater. By the time their jaunty songs, melancholy pipes, and traditional storytelling ended, the theater audience had noticeably relaxed, thoroughly enjoying their journey to the world celebrated each year on March 17th by the Irish and everyone who “takes on the green” for that one day.

SHOW: VIDEO PREVIEW: PRESENTER/SERIES: VENUE: OTHER LINKS: (official web page). Tomáseen Foley: (official website). William Coulter: (official website).  Kathleen Keane: (official website). Brian Bigley: (official website).


Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based theater reviewer. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

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