Friday, March 18, 2011

Gods and Monsters

Am I ever glad I ran - ran - from the CKCU studio to the NAC in time for Irish storyteller Clare Muireann Murphy's On The Heels of the Hound. This was a presentation by the Ottawa Storytellers Fourth Stage Series, and not one I wanted to miss (even if Thursdays are choir night, so, sadly, I often have to miss OST Fourth Stage shows.)

I'm an Irish mythology geek, so I was pretty happy to find out Clare Murphy was going to be here. On Saint Patrick's Day. To tell the really old stuff; origin myths and creation stories and ancient epics.

The room was pretty full when I came sneaking in minutes before the show (and my friend Ruthanne had saved me a seat right up at the front, bless her!) The teller came on stage singing, carrying a staff, in a white dress with a green shawl and ogham letters written down the back (and yeah, I knew what they were and thought that was a great touch.)

Murphy's storytelling is conversational, and vivid. The sound effects and different voices she could produce with just her voice were amazing, and she leaped from character to character, becoming a a warrior poet, a snorting, belching, repulsive giant, a crafty old Druidess, an arrogant king, a little boy - often back and forth between lines of dialogue. She spoke straight to the audience - to particular people in the audience at times - involving us in the story as well. We became, through the show, the chant that healed King Nuada's arm, the sound of the wind, servants put to sleep by magic, druids being chosen for a task, and by the end, the chorus of the song she'd been singing between stories. So in a way we became shapeshifters as much as she did, as did her staff and shawl, which became different objects through the stories as well.

Something about the updated, conversational, 'this is all happening in a time and place we can recognize' tone she used kept the myths she was telling fresh: these stories are thousands of years old, but she kept them from feeling distant. You could relate to these people, which is one of the things I find so interesting about the Irish legends. The characters are very human, even when they're gods. They have human failings and passions and fears and loves - and senses of humor - and Murphy brought that out. I don't think I've ever felt quite so much compassion for Fionn mac Cumhail in his search for his lost wife, or for little, stubborn, innocent, pigheaded, terrifying Setanta (he grows up to be Chu Chulainn, who Murphy described as "like Hercules, but psychotic and homicidal.") And I'm not sure I breathed during the warrior poet Amairgin's crossing of the nine waves to land in Ireland.

I wanted more: when she was done it felt like no time at all had gone by. Certainly not a couple of hours. Now where's my copy of the Dictionary of Celtic Mythology? Think I want to spend some more time with these stories.

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