When Jason McCool moved from Washington, D.C., to Boston, he brought a memento with him. And it wasn’t a Nationals hat.
Originally from Brockton, McCool—who is much more of a Harris tweed cap kind of guy— studied at the University of Maryland, and while in the D.C. area got involved with Solas Nua, which translates to “New Light,” the only organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to contemporary
Irish arts. Though the nonprofit tackles all mediums, McCool was particularly entrenched in the theater projects, including a role in the 2007 critically acclaimed production of Owen McCafferty’s “Scenes from The Big Picture.” When he relocated back to the Bay State in September of last year to begin doctoral work in musicology at Boston University, McCool left Solas Nua behind.
Not even a year away from The Capitol, McCool missed the energy and events of Solas, and thought about establishing an organization with a similar aesthetic in Boston. After all, celebrating Irish culture in Boston is “kind of a no-brainer,” he says.
“I wanted to find a place that felt like it was begging for something to be staged in it,” says McCool. “When I first walked into the backroom at the Burren, it was absolutely perfect. I literally sat at the bar there, had a pint of Guinness, and cracked open this book of plays from Fishamble Theatre in Dublin. I started reading ‘The Buddhist of Castleknock’ and I’m like, ‘Boom. I’m gonna direct this play here.’”
After booking the room, he reached out to Dennis Houlihan, president of the Solas Nua board, to see if they’d be interested in supporting the staged reading. “His response was, ‘You’re part of the Solas family, so if you want to continue our work up there I say have at it.’ Thankfully, the board agreed with him.”
With a green light from the mothership, McCool donned the title of artistic director and held the first event in June, and one each month since. “People have been really really supportive of this idea. Basically, within a month of setting up this company, I had a full roster of actors, and people emailing me saying, ‘What can I do to be a part of this?’” The October production, which McCool directed, drew in the largest crowd yet. This month, Monday, November 24, Hatem Adell directs “Great Artists Steal” by emerging Irish playwright Seamus Collins. Other represented artists have included Marina Carr, Jim O’Hanlon, and Sean Maguire.
“People come in expecting leprechauns and rainbows, the sort of American and phony version of Irish culture,” says McCool on the misconceptions surrounding Irish theater. “Instead, they get a piece set in a meat plant in Belfast with prostitutes and drug dealers. Very gritty and very real.”
Thus far, there have been no fully staged productions (although they are on the horizon, maybe as early as February), but he says the readings are more orchestrated than you may find elsewhere. “I like to describe our stage readings as five percent less than a full production.” He continues, “But good actors will make the scripts disappear within a minute. They just stop looking down and you sort of forget after a little while that they’re holding scripts.”