When the crew of A Statue for Ballybunion last gathered on stage, it was the day before lockdown. March 2020. A few things have changed in the world since then.
Now a full three years later, Playhouse San Jose will finally unveil their production of the humorous play by former San Jose mayor Tom McEnery. Though it is set in Ireland, and originally premiered in Dublin in 2017, Ballybunion will feel familiar to anyone struggling with a love/hate relationship with their hometown.
Loosely, Ballybunion tracks the real-life quest to erect a Bill Clinton statue in a tiny Irish seaside village (population: 1,800), followed by the subsequent attempts to draw then-president Clinton to said seaside village during his 1998 trip to Ireland. It sort of worked.
“Everything in the play is accurate,” McEnery says. “The idea of a Clinton visit, they just started to push it and push it. And for the strangest of reasons, he agreed to come.”
Clinton had been instrumental in helping Ireland achieve an end to the Troubles, but in 1998, he was, of course, dealing with troubles all his own. His tour of Ireland doubled as a sort of image-repair tour in the fallout of his affair with a 22-year-old intern.
And thus enters the town of Ballybunion.
“This little village just won’t give up,” McEnery says. “It’s such an extreme half-court shot to try and get Clinton to come.”
Appropriately, the plan unfolds in the town pub, where we meet a cross-section of Ballybunion’s perspectives and personalities. While some residents can’t wait to see their little home become world news, others would rather see the world themselves. At the heart of the play is the struggle between a father, the pub’s owner, and his daughter, who desperately wants to experience life outside Ireland.
“She has a lot of other options, but she’s also strongly drawn to stay in this town. She’s drawn for all the obvious reasons that people feel strongly about wherever they were born.”
How it all comes together—from the statue, to the presidential visit, to the island’s generational divide—is better left to be experienced. More than just fodder for the approaching green-beer holiday, it’s a story about keeping up hope in one’s hometown.
“It was just a group of people that didn’t give up. I think it’s a good story for us right now. When you don’t give up, sometimes semi-miracles happen.”
Opens Thu, 7:30pm, $55
Through Mar 26