Brian’s ‘Epiphany’ inspired by ‘The Dead’ but drama tells its own modern story

Brian Watkins: a longtime admirer of Druid.
Brian Watkins: a longtime admirer of Druid.

He spent his youth among the Rockies, growing up in the western US state of Colorado, but Irish literature has been a hugely formative influence in the life of actor-turned-playwright, Brian Watkins.

And it’s fitting that Druid Theatre is staging the world premiere of his latest work, Epiphany, because the Galway company had a key role to play in developing his love of Irish drama.

“I saw them in Middle School doing Martin McDonagh’s work and the magic drew me in,” Brian says of his first exposure to Druid as a teenager. Later, while studying in New York, he saw their productions of work by Enda Walsh and Tom Murphy. Most recently he enjoyed their production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot on its US tour.

After seeing one of Druid’s productions in New York, Brian wrote to the company, stating how much he loved its work and he sent on one of his plays, Wyoming. The expected rejection didn’t arrive. Druid’s Artistic Director, Garry Hynes, was taken by Wyoming but wasn’t sure how Druid might approach it, so she suggested workshopping it in Ireland.

Brian travelled to Dublin for the workshops in late 2017. While there, he read James Joyce’s short-story collection, Dubliners and, and as he explains, “Joyce gave me my epiphany. The book dislodged something that became the essence of this play and I wrote it quicker than I’d written anything before”.

The most famous story in Dubliners is the Dead, a masterpiece of the short-story format, and it has been a  major influence on Epiphany. But, as Brian points out, his drama is inspired by the story rather than being based on it: “It’s a scaffolding for the play and you don’t need to have read The Dead for it to work.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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