Rising Star: Derek Murphy

The expatriate playwright brings his latest play from New York to Northern Ireland, and maybe back again

C21 continues to bring international audiences to Northern Ireland with Appendage, a black comedy drama by New-York based, Dublin-born playwright Derek Murphy. The play makes its world premiere in Northern Ireland this month, touring theatres throughout the country before spending a week at the MAC.

Who/What/Where/Why/When is Derek Murphy?

I was born in Ballyfermot in Dublin's south side, and compared to Ballyfermot in the 70's New York feels like Sesame Street. I finished my education in the early 80's and found myself and Dublin with very few prospects. So I followed that well-worn trail to New York. And 25 years later, here I am wondering what I'm going to do with my return ticket.

You are a Dubliner who currently lives in New York, so how did you get in contact with C21?

A very good friend of mine, Nick Hardin (an American actor living in Northern Ireland), gave Stephen Kelly of C21 an early draft of the play to read. He liked it, so he put a rehearsed reading of the first 30 minutes of the play on at Pick n' Mix in 2011. Nick read the part of Peter (he'll do anything for money) and Stephen read the part of Jack.

Can you tell us a little bit about Appendage?

Appendage began as a love story. Thankfully, like most love stories, it quickly fell apart. It began with the relationship between Jack and Jill, whose only reason for having a relationship was simply that their names were Jack and Jill.

What? I've had relationships for worse reasons.

A friend of mine recently described Appendage as a cross between The Zoo Story and The Odd Couple. I might even throw Hamlet into the mix. It's a story of misguided grief, an old couch, a new suit, and some uninvited guests. It's pretty funny, except for the scary parts and the parts (as I recently witnessed) that make people cry.

Have you been involved in the evolution of the project from last year's Rehearsed Reading at Pick n' Mix to this year's tour?

I have been very involved with c21 since then. I spent a week over there last November for some very beneficial development work, and I did some rewrites as recently as last week.

The play was recently read by some NY Theatre producers. Can you tell us a little about that? 

Yeah. We recently, thanks to Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), had a reading of Appendage here in New York. It was just last Monday actually, and was at the 14th annual TRU play-reading series. We had an invited audience of about 120 people, from whom we received a overwhelmingly enthusiastic response.

Afterwards there was a panel discussion featuring Broadway producers and Tony award-winners, among them Tom Polum, Neil Danoff and Tweiss Productions. They were talking about how best to produce Appendage.

So there is a chance the C21 production will go to New York?

Maybe. Tweiss Productions and I are still involved in negotiations!

Right now I'm really excited to see how the audience will respond to the play. Then C21 and I can work out how expand on that together. That is, if Nick Hardin will let me use his couch again (and if he actually puts the heat on this time).

What are the differences between the NY theatre scene and what you have seen of Ireland/Northern Ireland's?

NY really does have an exciting and diverse theatre scene however the upper echelons are reluctant to take chances unless it was written 70 years ago or there's a dozen show tunes in it to keep the audiences toes tapping and stop them looking at their watches. It seems easier, and I could be wrong but not in my case, to get things done in Ireland/Northern Ireland, there seems to be a bigger support network.

Which of the characters is more like you - Peter or Jack?

Which of the two characters is more like me? I hope to God neither of them are like me! Having said that, I admit there is a touch of the Jack and Peter in me, let's just hope the authorities don't find out.

What's your favourite Northern Irish/Irish export (or import for you!)

My favourite Northern Irish/Irish export would be the people. Yeah I'm one of 'em! The people and a good package of crisps.

For more information on where to see Appendage, check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide