By Tori Bachman-Johnson, Georgetown student
Historic limestone fences line many roads throughout central Kentucky, a Bluegrass trademark with a story that originates halfway across the world in Ireland. These fences – on both sides of the Atlantic – are also being used to tell another story of relationships in an original play by George McGee, chairman of Georgetown College’s Theatre and Performance Studies Department.
This Friday through Sunday (Dec. 12-14), the Georgetown College Maskrafters will present “A Fence for Martin Maher,” written and directed by McGee with input from Irish actor/playwright John Mc Ardle. All shows will begin at 8 p.m. in the Ruth Pearce Wilson Lab Theatre. For tickets ($4 for students, $5 adults), call (502) 863-8134.
The Friday premiere will be preceded by a dinner-and-discussion beginning at 6:30 p.m., and round-table discussion immediately following the play with professor Ed Smith of the department.
The play premieres in conjunction with a traveling Museum on Main Street exhibit entitled “Between Fences” that the Kentucky Humanities Council arranged for through its partnership with the Smithsonian Institute. The exhibit, currently at the Georgetown/Scott County Museum through Jan. 17, is a portable display made up of five kiosks.
It was developed for small museums in rural areas and explores the role of fences in the settling of the United States. Six Kentucky communities were chosen to host “Between Fences” based on location, display space, and ideas for auxiliary events.
Concurrently, the exhibit is touring in South Dakota, Delaware, Idaho and Illinois, as well as Kentucky; but thus far, Georgetown is the only community to present a play cooperatively with the exhibit.
Playwright McGee found his inspiration for the play in considering fences, and the way they define areas and often represent seclusion from a community.
“There’s the idea that fences keep things in and keep things out, and it occurred to me that characters keep things in and keep things out,” he said. Psychologically, the two main characters build fences to separate themselves from each other and from the world, said McGee.
“A Fence for Martin Maher” is set in pre-economic crash Ireland in the city of Grange. A central plot of the play is that of the romantic relationship between characters Mary and Martin. Amanda Kachler, who plays Mary, feels that the audience will be able to relate to the new relationship developing between the two. Their encounters are awkward at times, and Martin is oblivious to Mary’s advances.
“She’ll move a stone, and he puts it right back up,” said Kachler, a junior from Maysville.
Growing up as the self-proclaimed “American cousin,” McGee said experiences with his Irish relatives helped to shape the play, which is dedicated to McGee’s distant cousin – “the family granny.” “Granny served as the family historian, a druid-like character who could trace the family history back and back,” said McGee, who plans to take the play to Ireland next year.
The rewriting process continues for McGee, as speaking the lines and listening to their rhythm provides him with a source of inspiration and aids in the process of discovering the characters. Speaking the lines, however, is easier said than done. Cast members had to learn to adopt Irish accents for the play, speaking the dialect of southeastern Ireland that includes different phrasing and pauses than English.
Michael McCord, cast as Martin, has a history of playing much older characters. “Since Martin is closer to me in age, he has many traits I can relate to and exploring those is…rewarding,” said McCord, a senior from Cynthiana. “That’s what is so great about theatre. If you pay attention, you always learn something about yourself, someone else, or the world.”
Virginia Smith Carter, executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council, is only too glad the organization could help fund this play – along with others such as the Lucille Little Fund for Creativity. “What a marvelous way to completely combine theatre arts and the humanities – telling the incredibly rich story of Kentucky’s relationship with stone fences and our Irish heritage,” said Carter, a long-time friend of George McGee. “I’m excited being of Irish descent and a native Kentuckian myself.”
Join playwright/director George McGee and the cast of “A Fence for Martin Maher” for a pre-show dinner and discussion at 6:30 p.m., Dec. 12 in the Hall of Fame Room, Cralle Student Center. Call (502) 863-8134) for reservations for this special dinner-and-play “package” of $25. Also see photograph’s from the play’s “real” location, Kilkenny, Ireland, and hear from Dathan Powell about the scenic design for the play. There will also be a special post-performance discussion immediately following the play Friday evening led by Ed Smith of the Theatre & Performance Studies department.
‘Between Fences’ Exhibit
The Smithsonian/Museum on Main Street exhibit “Between Fences” will be visiting the following sites in Kentucky:
Dec. 6-Jan. 17--Georgetown and Scott County Museum, Georgetown
Jan. 24-Feb. 21--Pine Mountain State Resort Park, Pineville
Feb. 28-April 18--Wrather West Kentucky Museum, Murray
April 25-June 6--Oldham County History Center, La Grange
June 13-July 25--Boyle County Public Library, Danville.