“Hunger” recounts stories of the Irish famine

“Hunger: A Dramatic Recital for Two Voices” is an “attempt to restore what has been silenced for so long by giving human voices their space,” director and writer Eamon Grennan said. The performance Tuesday at the Nate Katter Theatre showcased two actors recounting stories and reading excerpts from newspapers, sermons, government statements, books, memoirs and hospital reports, interspersed with sections of song and the Irish language.

Grennan, who spoke to the crowd before the recital, called it “a documentary” and “a collage,” as the actors “will play multiple voices intended to break the silence.” It was a spare set, featuring just a few chairs, blankets and other tiny props. Actors Tegolin Knowland and Sean Coyne were both dressed in all black.

“It was an impressive performance using the bare minimum to describe so much about the history,” said Jeffrey Netting, a 4th-semester English major.

The performance covered events from multiple occasions of Irish potato famine, particularly the famine of 1740 to 1741, and the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852. “Every year since the potato has come into the land there has been a famine in some corner,” they read. The performance related the great importance of the potato to the Irish diet, explaining that most Irish at the time only ate meat at Christmas and without it they were reduced to eating crows, rabbits, seaweed, shells, foxes, dogs and gulls.

The play’s broad scope and dynamic storytelling were well met by the audience. “I didn’t realize it was a socioeconomic problem as well as a food shortage,” said Jesse Cohen, 4th-semester English major.

Through what Grennan called a “mosaic” of documents, they explained some of the broader implications of the famine, such as loss of faith and political tension. “So much for the divine, so much for man, man in the shape of government,” said one of Knowland’s voices.

They described resentment against the affluent landlords of Ireland and imperialistic Britain. “There were some good ones (landlords),” said a character, “but landlords don’t understand the people, they live in a different world.”

“Undoubtedly the landlords’ rights will be defended,” said another, “the tenants must learn this at the arm of the law.” The actors also said that it was only a misdemeanor at the time to demolish a house with squatting evicted inside and also that some thought “the famine is a mechanism to reduce overpopulation.”

“In 1848, there was a rebellion, if you could call it that,” said one of Coyne’s characters, in reference to the short and ineffectual Young Irelander Rebellion.

The performance ended by describing the lasting effects of the famine. “The grave is quiet,” said Coyne’s character, “You can hear it. Eight million… One way or another… dead or emigrated… Immigration, immigration, immigration. That’s another story. Isn’t it?”




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