Oneco author receives Irish award for play

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Sterling - posted Mon., Jul. 15, 2013
Jim Lucason talks about his new play, 'The Rapparees.' Photo by D. Coffey.
Jim Lucason talks about his new play, 'The Rapparees.' Photo by D. Coffey.

Oneco resident and writer Jim Lucason has an ear for dialogue. He's honed it for more than 40 years since studying with playwright William Gibson at Brandeis University while pursuing an MFA. A circuitous path has taken him from acting at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, to membership in the Actor's Studio in New York. He was a foundry worker, coal miner and construction worker before he became a teacher. Through all the jobs and all the years, he wrote.

That discipline has yielded 10 plays, three novels and three screenplays. One of them, “The Rapparees,” won the Eamon Keane Full Length Prize Award last year at Listowel Writers' Week in Ireland. In November it will have its world premier at St. John's Theater in Listowel. And Lucason will find himself back in the Emerald Isle again.  

Though he was born in Connecticut, his frequent trips to Ireland have fostered a deep appreciation for all things Irish. He can speak the language and handle the tall glasses of Guinness, and recount the charm and resiliency of its people. But he knows, too, the terrible cruelties they've suffered. All of that finds it way into his writing.

Ireland's troubled history is included in many of his plays. “Dancing with the Devil” begins in 1846 when the potato famine was decimating the country. In “The Last Rightboy,” he writes about a mother and son trying to eke out an existence as poor tenant farmers in 1860. His play “West Kerry” is set during the time of the Easter Rising in 1916 when Irish republicans led an unsuccessful six-day war for independence.

His most recent play, “The Rapparees,” is set in Ireland during the 1700s. At the time, the British had instituted more than 200 laws that were punishable by death, according to Lucason. “The Irish couldn't own land, they couldn't own horses, they couldn't own guns,” he said. “The brutality was amazing.” Even attendance at Mass was reason for execution, and priest-hunting was common. “The British thought the Irish were animals,” Lucason said.

The play pits a priest running for his life and a band of Irish guerrilla fighters who shelter him, against the Light Dragoons who are in hot pursuit. The story is set in the windswept cliffs of Dún Chaoin, Ireland, one of the country's most westerly settlements. It's a place Lucason knows well. It is there he travels when Ireland calls.

Lucason is bound to honor historical truths in his stories and plays. That means he's had to do a lot of research. He's been just as ardent a gatherer of stories. He's listened as old men and women have shared their memories with him. He's listened to the stories told and the music sung in the pubs that make up some of the oldest grapevines in the world. And he's learned the rhythm of the town's spoken word, something that's drawn praise from the likes of Irish and American critics.

“I go to Ireland, gather information, talk with the old ladies, and take it back with me,” he said. “Then I piece it all together. Lord willing, everything comes out right.”

Lucason admits to a long-held belief in God. “We're here to do good things,” he said. “It's not God's fault when we choose not to.” But he also believes in man. Good things have come his way, though recognition for his writing is still elusive in the states. Perhaps it's because most of what he writes now is about Ireland's history and its people.

“I'm an Irish writer. It's just more reflective of what I do. Irish people love my stuff,” he said laughing. “But I don't care if I ever make a  penny. Family and friends are the greatest asset any man can have.”

He teaches language arts at Thompson Middle School, a job he loves. “I just enjoy the kids,” he said. “I work with the greatest educators in the world. There's none better.”

When asked what lessons he can share, he mentioned four. To be kind, loyal, modest and a good listener, he said. The benefit is that it also turns into good writing for him if he's honest. “But you have to have a lot of patience and a thick skin,” he said. No doubt a seasoning of Irish wit and wisdom comes in handy on the journey.

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