Scenes from the Big Picture

Des Kennedy prepares for a career high Stateside, reports Kirsten Kearney

Des Kennedy looks every inch the ‘hot young director’ in Jury’s Hotel in Washington DC. With navy pin stripe suit, Ray-Bans and Converse boots, he is recovering from another late night with his 21 actors, preparing to stage Owen McCafferty’s Scenes from the Big Picture. He then reveals that he traveled to Jury’s by bike. It’s good to see that things are not always what they seem.

Having spent a day hanging out with Marie Jones the week before, and a week to go until opening night, Kennedy is in fine fettle and keen to talk about his work.

He describes the play as being about ‘people in tragic circumstances coping’. While it has been compared to Under Milk Wood, Kennedy sees it as ‘an Our Town for our town’, namechecking the seminal American play of the 1930s by Thornton Wilder. ‘It’s not a typical Northern Irish Hands across the Barricades kind of thing’ he adds. Thankfully.

Scenes from the Big Picture is about looking at the wider picture of a Belfast world, trying to see beyond the legacy or continuing presence of the Troubles. The American actors from Solas Nua have reacted well to this. Don Kenefick says: ‘It is refreshing to do a play about Ireland that doesn't deal with "the troubles". We all need to understand how very much alike we all are in our day to day living.’

Eric Messner, who plays Paul Foggarty states: ‘I think that the great thing about this play is that the Troubles are present in the play indirectly, but this is a piece about trying to get up and move on and while the troubles are still relatively fresh, the people are trying to get by and live their lives, and some of them make a point of moving on and not dwelling on the past.’

It is the day to day, the ordinary that has caught the imagination of the actors. Never having worked with a Northern Irish script before, they embrace the universality of the production. John Brennan, who plays Shanks O’Neill, hopes ‘that I and the other members of the cast have done justice to this beautiful portrayal of ordinary people dealing with the tragedies, frustrations, small defeats, and quiet triumphs of everyday life.’

Brian Cassidy, the one Irish member of the cast, plays Frank Coin. He has some of the most beautiful lines in what is, at times, a very poetic text. Having talked to a mysterious woman called Elsie throughout the play, the penultimate scene casts a poignant light on their relationship:

'… he said that when we talk – the sound we make travels up into space and goes on forever – it never goes away… listenin to it a had this thought y’know – wouldn’t it be good to think that if there was somebody ya could no longer talk to – that if ya said something to them that yet words would travel up into space and that they might meet up with words that that person had once said to you – wouldn’t that be a nice thing…'

Kennedy has been working to McCafferty’s advice when dealing with the magnitude of the play. With 21 actors and 40 scenes to handle, all of which interact dynamically, he has learned to trust his actors ‘even if you think a line should be a certain way, just trust your actors and they will find new things in the text.

‘In terms of finding the truth of the piece’ says Kennedy, ‘they have been sublime.’

It remains to be seen if McCafferty's and Kennedy's faith will pay off, but with an impressive cast and crew behind them, not to mention the goodwill of the audience, the ordinary light that diffuses the play looks set to illuminate the American imagination.

After the premiere of Scenes From The Big Picture, find out what the American critics had to say at the Washington Post and DC Theatre Reviews.