In a store on East 9th Street I agree with the sales assistant that the bag I’ve picked up is lovely. It is. The bronze leather is soft enough to ripple, and the silk lining is hand-stitched in the workshop out back. She snatches up my two words.
“Oh! What part of Ireland are you from?”
I’d make a terrible celebrity. I don’t like being recognized, but I tell her anyway. She gasps again and waves a script. She’s studying lines for a Monday audition, and the North Dublin accent is being a right arse to her.
“I rented The Field,” she says, “And Angela’s Ashes.”
“And Darby O’Gill and the Little People?”
“They didn’t help much,” she says sadly, “They weren’t really Dublin.”
She seems nice, and I like interfering, so we start with a list of movies that she needs to see. The Commitments, which she’d forgotten. The Snapper–better, because the lead is a young woman. I Went Down. Some Colin Farrell interviews; he’s not quite right, but close enough to pass as Nortsoide for an American director. Forget The Dead; that’s a period accent, and the other side of the Liffey in any case.
She’s working on a Conor McPherson play I haven’t heard of. I was in college with Conor, though I didn’t know him. He wrote plays for DramSoc before Broadway adopted him. Noreen is impressed at this connection, though all I can think to tell her is that he was a funny-looking redhead back then, known to be talented and a grafter, and I remember him in tights. The ticket price for each of his plays doubled like lily pads, from three quid to see the The Light of Jesus at the Project Theatre in 1994, up to ninety bucks to see The Weir on Broadway a few years ago. The set design for his speechy dramas didn’t keep up, which made me bitter. For ninety bucks I expected a full-size Huey to land on the stage, at least.
“How do you pronounce N-E-A-S-A?”
“I’d say ‘Nassa’. But sometimes it’s ‘Nessa’.”
We go through the lines. I try to give her helpful rules. If it’s full-on North Dublin, then ‘book’ rhymes with ‘puke’. No tee-aitches. ‘I’ is ‘Oi’. You drop the ‘t’ at the end of a word and stick in a glottal stop if necessary. _Wha’ abou’ i’?_ I channel our Taoiseach(Prime Minister), Bertie Ahern. _Bairrrrr-tee._ That’s it, there’s a constipated frown that goes with it, especially if you’re threatening. I teach her northside jokes to get her in the mood.
“What do Nortsoide girls use for protection during sex?”
She looks worried. She is scribbling notes. Book = puke.
“A bus shelter!” _Shal-thur_.
A trio of Japanese girls comes in, coos over the bronze bags. Noreen’s sausage dog makes a bid for East 9th Street as the door opens, and she looks terrified that I’ll escape too. So she keeps me talking as the girls quiz her. “No, sorry, that one’s not on sale, it’s new stock…please, say it again.”
“Foookhh off, wudjeh?”
“Faakhh off, would you?”
“No, fookhh off, wouldj yeh?”
The Japanese girls look puzzled.
Rules, rules. Her notes snake around the script. “Fight” is “Foigh'” Then we probe Neasa’s motivations. “What would she wear? I mean, she’s this North Dublin barmaid, and this guy has dumped her because she’s too low-class for his family. This is the scene where she confronts him, with their kid upstairs. So what would she wear?”
This is how I method act my own life: if I were to move to California, say, what would I wear? Truth is I’m not sure any more what Neasa would put on. These days Ireland is more slapper-glam than New York City and I’m doubtful about anything beyond fake tan. That’s a definite. Brooklyn girl jeans, I tell her finally, and a tight black top. “Like these?” she says hopefully, and points her blue 501s, which look midwestern. No, I tell her. Tighter, babe. Neasa would be hard-eyed, I tell her, especially if this confrontation means a lot to her. She would fold her arms tightly across her chest.
Noreen says that she would really like to get this job. She hasn’t worked in a while and she can’t afford dialect coaching, but she would really, really like to get this job. As I edge out the door she asks if she could maybe call me with some follow-up questions, for a few extra bucks?
New York actors break my heart. I just hope they don’t hit me up for a hundred and eighty dollars when I go to see her shine.