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“GLOOM WITHOUT SUNSHINE”: THE RECEPTION OF T. C. MURRAY IN AMERICA, 1911–1938 ALBERT J. DEGIACOMO a few years ago I was perusing the shelves of a used book shop in Gloucester , Massachusetts. Finding a Wrst edition of Autumn Fire by T. C. Murray , I took the book to the shopkeeper for purchase. She turned the volume over in her hands, thumbed its pages awhile, looked at me and pointedly asked, “Who is Murray?” One of Ireland’s “Cork Realists,” T. C. Murray (1873–1959) was a full-time schoolmaster in Cork and headmaster in Dublin. Murray produced a canon of seventeen plays in the one, two, and three-act forms. He began writing plays at the urging of Daniel Corkery . Birthright (1910), Maurice Harte (1912) and Autumn Fire (1924) were his most celebrated works. Little remembered today, Murray’s peasant plays were regular features in the Abbey repertoire from 1910 to 1939. Murray’s plays, furthermore, were standards for many years in amateur drama festivals throughout Ireland. Indeed, to this day Murray’s plays are staged in these festivals and broadcast in Ireland. Although Murray never visited America, his plays were also standards on the Abbey Theatre American tours from 1911 to 1935. Audiences in several American cities witnessed performances of Wve of his best plays. Adele M. Dalsimer presents a detailed discussion of these tours in her 1981 article, “Players in the Western World,”1 but no one has given particular attention to the works of T. C. Murray on these tours.2 Birthright (1910), depicts a squabble between two brothers, Hugh and Shane Morrissey, over the inheritance of their father’s farm. This two-act THE RECEPTION OF T. C. MURRAY IN AMERICA, 1911–1938 151 1 Adele M. Dalsimer, “Players in the Western World: The Abbey Theatre’s American Tours,” ÉIRE-IRELAND, XVI:4 (Winter, 1981), 75–93. 2 For an overview of Murray’s work, see Mícheál Ó hAodha, Theatre in Ireland (Totowa , NJ: Rowman and LittleWeld; Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), pp. 72–76. tragedy is signiWcant in both Irish and American theater history as it was selected by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory to form part of the opening bill for the American première of “the Irish Players.” The Company, headed by Sara Allgood, Máire O’Neill, Cathleen Nesbitt, Arthur Sinclair and J. M. Kerrigan, opened on September 23, 1911, at the new Plymouth Theatre in Boston. In addition to Birthright, the première bill included Lady Gregory ’s Hyacinth Halvey and J. M. Synge’s In The Shadow of the Glen. The Playboy of the Western World had its première later in the Boston engagement. Lennox Robinson, Augusta Gregory and others have recounted that Irish-Americans in Boston were challenged by Murray’s corrective to their sentimental views of Ireland.3 Indeed, prior to the première of Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Murray’s Birthright was the center of attention .4 Most commonly, reviewers characterized it as “grim”; others labeled the play “somber.”5 Unfortunately, the epithet “grim” was to follow Murray’s plays throughout his career and would, indeed, become part of his dramatic legacy. But the initial estimation can be explained partly by American viewers’ expectations, for they were accustomed to laughing at comic treatments of Irish life presented in plays by the likes of Dion Boucicault . In fact, several reviews reveal that the opening night performance was marred by the audience’s ill-timed laughter. Edward H. Crosby in The Boston Sunday Post noted, for example, . . . [T]he motive of the Wrst two given plays was not understood. . . . [T]he American public has come to regard any play touching on Irish life in the nature of a comedy. The very dialect is taken as a signal for laughter. . . .6 THE RECEPTION OF T. C. MURRAY IN AMERICA, 1911–1938 152 3 Lennox Robinson, Ireland’s Abbey Theatre, (London: Sidgwick and Jackson Limited, 1951; Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1968), p. 96; Lady Augusta Gregory, Our Irish Theatre (1913; New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 101–102. 4 Mícheál Ó hAodha claims that the publicity surrounding Playboy of the Western World overshadowed...


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