Earlier this month I interviewed actors Eva O’Connor and Ciaran O’Brien, the stars of the latest New York off-Broadway production, Maz and Bricks.
Perched on stools in 59E59 Theatre on the street of the same name, Eva O’Connor and Ciaran O’Brien are feeling the exhaustion from their first week performing Maz and Bricks, the latest New York off-Broadway production.
With one day of tech and only a few days of rehearsals after the Christmas break, they admit it was a bumpy start. “It’s been a weird one coming over, being jet-lagged and getting used to it very quickly,” explains O’Brien. “That’s what previews are for”, shrugs O’Connor, “I feel on opening night we had finally hit our stride.”
Written in 2017 by O’Connor during the lead up to the 2018 Irish abortion referendum, which subsequently voted in to legalize abortion in the country, the play toured all over Ireland and went on to be performed in Edinburgh. It was here that Maz and Bricks was spotted, and O’Connor was invited to bring her play over the Atlantic to New York to be part of Origin’s First Irish, a theatre festival dedicated to showcasing the work of contemporary Irish playwrights.
The emotional and often intense performance tells the story of Maz (O’Connor), a young woman furious at the country and the people that that have failed her. She’s on the Luas, making her way to a Repeal march in the city, frantically putting the finishing touches to her placard while a young man (O’Brien) sits in front of her, mouthing off on the phone with his tales from the night before. Conversation strikes up between them and what unfolds is a day filled with twists and turns around the streets of Dublin as they share secrets and personal trauma, all while the chants of the Repeal protesters play on in the background.
The script doesn’t follow the typical conversational route, instead the characters switch to in depth monologues addressed to the audience, the subtle rhyming creating an intoxicating flow of words. The inspiration for this decision came from a play that O’Connor saw in London named Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen. “It’s all written in kind of a weird form of rhyming, but it doesn’t really rhyme the way you would expect it to.” She decided to see if she could do the same- “it was an experiment really”-and created the powerful spoken word pieces. The musicality of the lines add an extra pressure on the two actors, “if you miss the beat it all just falls over each other and can go askew very easily… you need to surf it, the structure of it goes around and comes back on itself,” O’Brien explains.
The biggest change the actors have noticed since touring the play over the years is the shift in the audience reactions. “We were saying how we think that people’s overall views have changed. In the three years, people’s views have shifted so much that even now it feels, that Brick’s point of view seems outdated where I don’t think that would have been the case three years ago,” O’Brien muses. So far, the American spectators have reacted well with the play’s debut, “I have to say I love the audiences, they’ve really surprised me in a kind of way, it shows that the play is universal” O Brian continues.
“When we were doing it coming up to the Repeal Referendum it was pretty intense and a weird time. I was campaigning alongside performing and I was so emotionally invested on a personal level in the referendum. It was pretty tough touring it around, we had loads of post-show discussions and they were also some nights a little bit contentious. It was a cool thing to do in hindsight, that we were part of that moment in time and in history,” reflects O’Connor.
The play opens on the march and it briefly goes back towards the end, but though the message of Repeal whispers throughout the play, for the actors it was much more than that. “I honestly think repeal was only the backdrop of [the play], the characters have different things going on that is universal, mental health, depression.” The ending of the play offers a subdue layer of sadness, tinged with a glimmer of hope but as O’Connor explains, “it’s no totally clean cut either.” And the same can be said for the characters of Maz and Bricks, neither are perfect and the play shows the complexity of people and how we shift and change with our experiences. “It’s about these two people connecting and having an effect on each other, being able to go through what happened to them and being able to speak about it with each other.”