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Irish Vampires invade Wabasha Caves: St. Paddy's theme play brings true character to West Side

published on March 11, 1996
in The Riverview Times

There have been vampires from Hollywood, from Mexico, even "Lesbian Vampires from Sodom." But vampires from Ireland?

In the West Side's own Wabasha Caves, a single Irish vampire has taken to the caverns in the Cracked Lookingglass production of St. Patrick's Vampire Moonshine, an original play by Patrick O'Donnell.

It's a bit of thespian funnery that pits the Irish druids, gods and goddesses against a threat to all mankind (or at least Ireland). Catholicism. Of course there's a vampire, too.

Granted the premise is likely to offend some. But it's hard to be too offended by all the Irish Catholic puns when one of the Irish gods himself carries a golf club and wars a smoking jacket. Some of the company's biggest fans are nuns.

For all its wry wit, heaving insults, and whimsy, St. Patrick's Vampire Moonshine is a play with a message, albeit a campy one. With the growth of organized religion came a modern era that has forgotten its simple past and pleasures.

Cracked Lookingglass is the brainchild of a former Miss Ireland, Helen Broderick, who found her way to a career in theater via several years in the European hospitality industry as a waitress, then a manager of pubs, restaurants, and even a Hard Rock Cafè. Hers is truly a story of self-discovery and good fortune.

After spending five years in Belgium, running a restaurant and being a DJ at a local radio station, Broderick returned to England to wait out a green card as her husband Tom "Skipp" Dunne went on ahead to Minnesota. In 1984 she immigrated to St. Paul and took a job at St. Paul's now defunct Deco Restaurant as the catering manager. At about the same time she yearned for more, so went off to get her degree at Hamline University by way of Lakewood Community College.

"I was very touched, I really was touched to the quick that Hamline would give a middle-aged woman a grant," she said. "That helped a lot."

At that time Broderick noticed she was spending hours with Na Fianna, another local Irish Theater Group. So a degree in theater seemed natural.

On one of those theater projects she and playwright O'Donnell, who was hungry to see his work on the stage, teamed up on a one-day Bloomsday event, an annual celebration on June 16 of the Irish cult hero James Joyce and one of his famed characters, Bloom.

That first production was the proverbial, "Hey kids! Let's make a show."

Broderick said, "We just did it with sheet perspiration, determination and I'm sure a fair amount of ignorance that helped us along."

After an unprecedented three-week casting call, the one-night affair went on at Kieran's Irish Pub in Minneapolis.

"There were 120 people in the back room It might have been illegal to have that many," said Broderick. "People were hanging from the rafters. It was so heart warming.

Not a month later, on July 11, 1994, Cracked Lookingglass was born. Since then the company's played to many a full house at Kieran's pub's back room.

"Nothing succeeds like success," said Broderick of the skeptical looks she got when telling Americans about her pub theater. "People said, 'Pub theater?' In England and Ireland pub theater is big. But over her people would say, 'Why do you want to do theater in a pub?' We're bringing the theater to the people."

Certainly Cracked Lookingglass has developed a following among Irish transplants that pine for a bit of home, said Broderick. "As exiles we always need our ethnic fix where we can hear Irish music, or talk Irish stuff."

There's also an appeal among people who want to gain knowledge about Irish culture. Broderick attributes that to the "diversity thing" that's encouraging people to explore other cultures.

But perhaps most surprisingly are the successes Cracked Lookingglass has had in education. They've performed for corporate groups, one which took up a Flan O'Brien book as a group study project after seeing one of his works on stage. At a recent workshop, Broderick had girl scouts begging her to teach them Gaelic. That there's an Irish language at all surprises many, said Broderick.

The community players in Cracked Lookingglass come from all walks of life. There's a surgeon and an assistant to investment banks and a school bus driver, to name a few of the actors' day jobs.

Ah, but by night, out come the grease paints, the wigs, the wild costumes, oh, and the fangs.

Cracked Lookingglass' production of St. Patrick's Vampire Moonshine runs through March 29 at the Wabasha Caves, 215 Wabasha St. So., St. Paul. For tickets call 989.5151 or buy them at the door.

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david southgate
writing for living.