“It’s a rare delight to see a play that takes its audience through a wide range of emotions and sends them on their way feeling happy,” said Janet Mitchko. She is directing The Public Theatre’s upcoming production of “Moonshine,” a delightfully bittersweet Irish comedy, and she says this play will provide such an occasion.

TPT’s performances of this comic and heartwarming story about the power of hope will run March 11 to 20.

It’s Good Friday in a small Irish village and just about everything is going wrong. The Protestant church is closing down, the vicar’s wife is dying, and the town’s enthusiastic undertaker is determined to stage a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a spunky cast of four between the funeral and Easter Sunday.

Hope springs eternal for these lovable misfits, and Easter Sunday proves the perfect day for a magical transformation in their lives.

It was about a year ago when Mitchko stumbled upon this unknown gem of a script in a New York bookstore and brought it to the attention of TPT’s Artistic Director Christopher Schario.

“We were both totally charmed by the world and characters in this play,” Mitchko said, although “Moonshine” is relatively unknown and has had only a couple productions in the United States.

“The characters are so lovable and they embrace life fully,” she said. “They get knocked down and then get right back on their horse. We’re sure audiences will trust our taste in choosing this play for them.”

“Christopher and I actually drew straws over who was going to direct it,” Mitchko said, adding: “I’ve had the luxury of e-mailing the playwright, Jim Nolan, in Ireland about the play, where it was performed several years ago at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.” “It’s always nice to have the playwright as a resource,” she said.

Another surprising link to Nolan on the Emerald Isle came when the writer told Mitchko he had struck up a conversation in his local pub with two people from the Lewiston area. Nolan assured Mitchko he had convinced them to buy tickets to the show.

The cast of “Moonshine” contains a lot of new and distinctly Irish-looking faces for Public Theatre audiences, Mitchko said. Playing the central role of McKeever, an indomitable and optimist undertaker, is Donald Kimmel. Early in his career, Kimmel appeared in the film “Taps” with Sean Penn and Tom Cruise and has since worked extensively in theater, film and television.

The pivotal role of Rev. John Langton will be played by Rory James Kelly. Enjoying a wonderful career in regional theater, Kelly has toured nationally in several productions of the Tony award-winning play “Equus” with Anthony Perkins. He appeared with Charlton Heston and Vanessa Redgrave in “Macbeth” and he returns to Maine having played Merrick in “The Elephant Man” at Lakewood Theatre many moonshines ago.

Other newcomers to The Public Theatre include David Mawhinney as Michael, a childlike young man who’s easily wounded by the world.

Caleb Mayo is Griffin, a scrappy youth who tries too hard to be tough; and Robin Benson portrays Bridget, a tomboy who’s eager to grow up and become famous.

Returning to the Public Theatre in yet another “daughter” role is Shannon Emerick portraying Rev. Langton’s daughter Elizabeth. Emerick will be remembered by Maine audiences for her role as Catherine in TPT’s production of “Proof.”

Mitchko noted that every member of the cast brings authentic Irish character to their roles, and none is more striking than Mayo with is flaming shoulder-length red hair.

The design team for “Moonshine” includes Bart Garvey as lighting designer, Christopher Price as set designer, and Kathleen Brown and Kathy Peters as costume designers.

This humorous and heartwarming story comes just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Mitchko said. It’s a great way “to celebrate the Irish in all of us.”

“Dancing at Lughnasa” was the last Irish play staged by The Public Theatre, Mitchko noted. That was in 1995 and it was a popular production. “Those who liked “Dancing at Lughnasa” will like “Moonshine,” Mitchko said. “It has the same feel.”

“Moonshine” contains some adult language.


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