Hauntingly beautiful ballads and lilting storytelling mark “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music,” a one-man play about the great Celtic bard Turlough O’Carolan. Set in a cozy thatched-roof hut, its music and story might spring from the 17th-century invasion of Ireland by England, but the play seems as current as the latest troubles in Belfast.
Patrick Ball’s acting is fine, his musicianship outstanding. He plays a poet recalling the life of his recently deceased friend O’Carolan. Stateside audiences probably have never heard of O’Carolan (he died in 1738), but the Irish have immortalized him by putting his portrait on the 50-pound note and his name on a cream liqueur.
Ball performs 13 of O’Carolan’s haunting compositions for the Celtic harp, linkingthem with gently sardonic anecdotes. Among them are tales of how the English ousted the Irish gentry from their estates, thus depriving wandering bards of the patrons who had provided food and shelter.
O’Carolan, a pragmatist blinded at 18 by smallpox, chose to endear himself to the English with lighthearted songs of love and humor, while the narrator spurned the hospitality of Ireland’s conquerors.
Director Peter Glazer, creator of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song,” co-authored the show with Ball. Mindful of Yeats’ advice that Irish poets should “sing whatever is well made,” Glazer and Ball have crafted a small gem. Production values are excellent.