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arts&sciences | Fall 2011

Ronan Noone relaxes with a pint at The Snug, an Irish pub in Hingham, Massachusetts.
Photo by Vernon Doucette

Nothing Wrong with Wooliness

Having found commercial success, a playwright returns to what he does best.

By Patrick L. Kennedy

"In any career, there's a narrative trajectory," says Ronan Noone (GRS'01). The award-winning playwright made his name with works that explored conflict in his native Irish society, through characters that spoke with his native Irish volubility—"wooliness," he calls it. After more than a decade in his adopted USA, he began experimenting with American settings and characters. "At times," he fears, "my prose became leaden. Now," he says, "I've come through to the other end of the cycle."

Raised in rural Connemara, Noone attended University College, Galway, then worked for a month as a reporter at a weekly newspaper in Mayo, and later, in Prague, for two days.

Noone soon realized he was no journalist, but he enjoyed writing. "I started working in dialogue, and I found it came very naturally. I wrote anecdotes that were told to me by my grandfather, by various people in Ireland." He wrote as if taking dictation, "writing in their voice on paper."

Soon, he wrote a play. But with no connections in the theater, Noone boxed up the script with the rest of his belongings and came to America in the summer of '94. He settled on Martha's Vineyard and got a job as a host in a restaurant, he says, "still wearing my brown cords, the hot clothes of Ireland, in the heat of Martha's Vineyard."

Becoming a U.S. citizen in 2000, Noone dusted off his play, The Lepers of Baile Baiste, and applied and was accepted to BU's Creative Writing Program.

"I was overwhelmed by the resources that Boston University had at hand," Noone says. With mentors such as Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, Noone workshopped Lepers through professional productions at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.

Though set in rural Ireland and written years earlier, "Lepers dealt with church abuse just as the [abuse scandal] was breaking in Boston and becoming the worldwide disaster for the Catholic Church," says Noone. The play garnered the 2001 Michael Kanin National Student Playwriting Award and a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It tied with his follow-up, The Blowin of Baile Gall, to win the Independent Reviewers of New England Award for Best New Play.

Noone was thrilled by the accolades, but he grew anxious to succeed commercially as he began raising two daughters. "Overthinking" the market and the American idiom, Noone says, he feels he "lost some of the spontaneity" of his earlier work.

Not that his career has suffered. His prairie-set plays, for example The Atheist, starring Campbell Scott, were rather well received. And Noone has picked up some television work, adapting the true stories of Mafiosos-turned-informers for the small screen.

Nevertheless, he has decided to re-embrace his natural lyricism and to focus on the theme of immigration that he knows well. That decision has "reignited my passion for the subject and that wooly playwriting that I used to do," Noone says, and he has begun work on an epic story that will address "both the Irishness of my birthplace and the Americanness of my home."

Another way Noone has returned to his roots: Becoming an adjunct assistant professor of creative writing at CAS. "To be invited to actually teach in the same classrooms where you learned," he says, "I don't know if there's a much better honor than that."