A tasty stew requires a combination of diverse ingredients. Which is why the upcoming production of Irish Stew at Village Players is mixing together a recipe of music, storytelling and visual arts to re-create the rich flavor of a pub in rural Ireland.
Margaret Burk and Kim Hoag will do the storytelling, while Gerry Dignan and Paul McKenna supply the music. They will be performing in front of a stunning backdrop: a collage depicting a celebration of James Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses at an Irish pub. It took River Forest resident Bernadette Freeman two years to complete the collage, which was inspired by a 2004 celebration of “Bloomsday” at Molly Malone’s in Forest Park.
From a distance, the large-scale work looks like an oil painting. Closer examination reveals it was created with tiny scraps of paper, painstakingly glued into place by Freeman. The artist, better known as “Deco,” said the work came about almost by happenstance.
“I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to Molly Malone’s for the 100th Anniversary celebration of Bloomsday,” she said. Patrons were taking turns reading passages from Ulysses and Deco was asked to read from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. “I agreed to do it, because of the repeated word ‘yes’ in the passage.”
It didn’t hurt that she was wearing a red dress, while she crescendoed the word “yes” throughout the hushed bar. (Think of Meg Ryan’s “I’ll have what she’s having” restaurant scene). “It was liberating to affirm the word ‘yes’,” she recalled and later decided to commemorate the moment in a collage.
Deco has been creating first-class art by cutting up third-class mail for a number of years. She has conducted collage-making workshops at schools and displayed some of her works locally. One of these pieces, “Under the Influence,” shows the planet Earth in close proximity to the planet Mars, during the run-up to the Iraq war.
Her new work is as affirming as the former was foreboding. The collage is dominated by a large figure of a woman in red. The woman has an Earth Mother quality and bears no resemblance to the actual Deco. The collage is dark, like the inside of a pub but the center is bathed in sunlight slanting through the windows. A gallery of ghostlike figures can be seen reflected in the glass.
Balancing the lady in red on the left is a young girl on the right. She’s wearing a red swimming suit and running delightedly through a sprinkler. “She manifests the word ‘yes,'” Deco said.
She began the work by first making a sketch, something she rarely does for collages. Another rarity was her abandonment of perspective. “I’m usually very precise with perspective. But I was commemorating a fictional moment and wanted to create a feeling of dislocation, so I threw perspective out the window.”
Space as well as time seemed immaterial as Deco labored in her attic studio. “After it was sketched out, I used rectangles as elements of composition.” Those rectangles are most clearly seen in the hanging glasses at the center of the collage. The glasses are so generous in size, they could each hold a gallon of Guinness. Below these empties, a pint of the Irish nectar serves as a fitting focal point.
Above the rough and tumble of pub life, Deco added a classical theme. Panels, presenting more than a dozen Biblical scenes, stream across the top of the work. The first scene is from the Garden of Eden and the last represents Revelations. “They tell a story, or show a period,” Deco said. In the scene, where a whale breaches alongside a fishing boat, the panel refers to both Jonah and Jesus.
Another classic theme, found in all of Deco’s works, is a reference to the Beatles. The pub calendar, which is turned to the month “June-ish,” definitely has eight days a week. Deco is such a Beatle-phile, she will be in New York for Beatlemania and will miss the Irish Stew production.
Nevertheless, she is excited that her work will be part of the production. “When there’s a live performance, only a limited amount of people can experience it in a limited amount of time. But a work of art that captures that moment can be timeless.”
Members of the Irish Stew cast were blown away by Deco’s collage. “It’s phenomenal,” Paul McKenna said. “I’m nervous about transporting it to the theater. It’s like carrying someone’s newborn baby. You can look at it for a long time and still see new things. I can’t imagine the patience it took to create it.”
The Irish Stew audience will be able to view the work from far and near. Up close, one can see that Deco has every word of Molly’s soliloquy slanting like sunlight across the collage. “There’s some talk that the soliloquy will be performed that night,” Deco said. Hopefully, the speaker will possess the fire of a lady in red, who turned the spirit of “yes” into a newborn work of art.
Irish Stew will be performed Saturday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. All tickets are $20.