Eugene Doyle, 68, told the story of his grandfather’s wake in Ireland. He remembered being a young boy and being confused by the ordeal, in which family members were celebrating rather than mourning.
It wasn’t until adulthood that Doyle thought back on the experience and he understood. He realized it was a lesson about living in the moment because there are so few of them.
As the Hampton Bays man finished his story, four actors took to the stage in front of him. Without hesitation, and without ever having heard Doyle’s story before, they each took on a role that retold his story and expressed his confusion, his sadness, and later in life, his appreciation for the experience.
Doyle smiled as the actors finished relaying a story he said he had to “dig deep” to produce.
“Thank you,” he said. “That was wonderful.”
Members of the Hampton Bays community took turns sharing their memories of Ireland or stories of their Irish ancestry at the Hampton Bays Public Library on Sunday afternoon during “From Ireland to Long Island: What's your story?” a performance by the improvisational group Playback Theater Long Island.
The way that it worked, explained Paul McIsaac, artistic director for the group, is audience members shared their stories and the improv actors then “play it back” on the stage, using few props and accompanied by music.
Sunday’s performance, in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day, focused on Irish heritage. Community members shared stories of trips to the country and adventures in tracking down their roots.
The actors performances are a reaction to the stories told, McIsaac said, and they try to convey the emotion behind them.
Gail Zappone of Southampton came to the event prepared. She brought a scrapbook from a trip to Dublin, where she tried to locate a quaint, old inn that was part of her family’s heritage.
The actors told her story on stage, expressing her frustration when she ran into numerous obstacles throughout her journey, but also her perseverance, and her feeling that her ancestors were helping guide her.
Long after the performance had ended, almost the entire audience continued to share their memories of Ireland.
“That’s what’s great,” Zappone said. “It’s a nice icebreaker to open people up. After the audience members shared their stories, they started to mingle and continued to share, which is really wonderful.”
McIsaac said Sunday’s performance was the first of many heritage-based events that Playback Theater Long Island plans to hold. He said the group will hold performances all over the Island to have people of all backgrounds share stories of their pasts and how their ancestors came to Long Island.
He said the project was born out of a performance the group did in Patchogue after the 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, who was the victim of a hate crime in Patchogue.
“Everyone is an immigrant,” McIsaac said. “Everyone here came from somewhere and if you can hear their stories, then you’ll be able to understand much better the new immigrants.”
Photo: Actors with Playback Theater Long Island perform an improvisational skit about an audience member's emigration from Ireland. (March 6, 2011)