Archive for August, 2014

Illusory Promise

ApolloToday marks the 45th anniversary of the historic lunar landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (ably supported in orbit by pilot Michael Collins), an achievement as momentous as it is distant from the more modest space ambitions of today. The event is being commemorated around the world as part of the #Apollo45 campaign, and I thought it might be interesting to add an Irish perspective by taking a quick look back at how contemporary newspapers here reported on the mission and the crew of Apollo 11.

I was pleased to find that, in the main, they did so with interest and enthusiasm (almost always being careful to preserve the image of Ireland’s neutrality by soliciting comments from Soviet representatives) and all three of the country’s main papers at the time, the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, and the now defunct Irish Press devoted the entirety of their front pages to…

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Illusory Promise

Michael Piller, on the set of Star Trek Michael Piller, on the set of Star Trek

Today I read a book which was never officially published: Michael Piller’s Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft, the story of how he wrote the underrated yet still disappointing film Star Trek: Insurrection. Though freely available online, at its time of writing (1999) Fade In was apparently ‘suppressed by Paramount’ (TrekCore’s words) and was only released on the Internet because it never found a publisher even after the studio lost interest in it. For his part, Piller considered the book ‘his last great gift to the fans and to aspiring writers everywhere’.

Piller, who died in 2005, wrote some of the best episodes of modern Star Trek  (‘Booby Trap’, ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, ‘Emissary’) as well as un-credited rewrites – in his role as Executive Producer – on scores more. Fade In so is much…

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Illusory Promise

Sherlock Series Three Publicity photo from the BBC Sherlock Series Three Publicity photo from the BBC

While I’m going to need to watch all three episodes again, I feel that, on first viewing at least, this has been the best series of Sherlock thus far. It’s been so consistent with its approach and so playful as regards the material and the audience. A real joy to watch!

Yes these episodes have been a bit unconventional in how they fragment their narratives (and I know that this has turned the occasional viewer off), but it’s a deliberate choice on the part of the writers and one which, I think, allows us to read Series Three as a kind of meta-commentary on the way Holmes is constantly re-imagined by popular culture; not just the case of Sherlock by itself, but the use of Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation more generally and, in particular, the changing manner in which we as readers…

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Illusory Promise

Irish Studies Review

I meant to plug this sooner, but ‘If it was Just Th’oul Book …’: A History of the McGahern Banning Controversy – my article on the banning of John McGahern in 1965 – was published a little while ago in the Irish Studies Review. It’s the first time this crucial event in McGahern’s life has been looked at it any depth, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for anyone writing on the author’s life or his importance to Irish culture, this is going to be essential reading. But then, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

The article examines the banning of John McGahern’s novel The Dark in Ireland in 1965, along with the subsequent controversy surrounding its author’s dismissal from his teaching position in Dublin. This so-called McGahern Affair provoked wide-ranging and vigorous debate about both the censorship legislation and…

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Like a Hand on the Shoulder…

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Illusory Promise

Always a pleasure to engage with the work of the late John McGahern. Here’s a recent piece I wrote for the Irish Examiner on the newest edition of his Collected Stories

John McGahern - Collected Stories John McGahern – Collected Stories

Collected Stories
John McGahern
Faber; £10.99
Review: Val Nolan

Even in death, John McGahern remains Ireland’s greatest living writer. A strange thing to say, perhaps, but then, as an author known for decade-long silences, it does not feel as if he has truly left us. We might have expected a new novel from him by now if he were still alive but, in place of that, comes this reminder that he is in fact gone. It provokes sadness, yes, but also gratitude for the powerful work which he gifted us in the time available to him.

Famously, McGahern believed that Ireland was less a coherent state than a mosaic of ‘little republics called families’. Something…

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Writing Through Grief

Posted: August 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

The Blog

Blogs are incredible vehicles for exploring our passions and finding our voices. They can also be powerful tools for healing in the face of trauma; for many of us, the act of writing is a cathartic one.

These brave moms are blogging their way through one of life’s more traumatic losses: the loss of a child. Calling themselves babyloss blogs, they provide insight for those of us who have never experienced this unique pain and support for other parents starting to navigate the same grief — along with hope that life does go on, and happiness is still possible.

C is for Crocodile

2014 BlogHer Voices of the Year winner Timaree started C is for Crocodile to chronicle her pregnancy, never imagining that after three years and five months, she would instead be chronicling her son’s fight with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia — an incredibly rare form of cancer. She blogged through his treatment…

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Well, I’ve been sitting on this decision for quite some time, but here goes. When we start our 10th season of Decoder Ring Theatre in September, our schedule will change to 12 releases per year, each on the first of the month, every month, year-round. The releases will alternate between our two cornerstone series, with a Black Jack Justice on September 1st, a Red Panda Adventure on October 1st and so on.

Now that’s still quite a lot of episodes. But it is less than we have been doing, and it makes me a little sad, and also sorry that it may make some of you a little sad too. If you’re reading this, you’ve almost certainly been pretty invested in what we do over the years, and I feel like you deserve an explanation of how it went down.

Many of you are aware, but others are not, that through this entire adventure to date, I have always had a “full-time job”. Except that I had no idea what full-time meant until I added the second full-time job of radio dramatist…. guy. We’ll work on the job titles later. And of course back when we started I had zero children, and I’ve never taken any time away from the two we now have to do Daddy’s “secret-identity” jobs. So the Gregg you know lives in the hours where it is dark and sensible people are asleep, and that has always worked.

Except it really wasn’t working any more, and something was going to have to give. I began to toy with the idea of dropping the Showcase set for a season or two. They were originally envisioned as a bit of a time-saver… six less episodes to write… but they still took a lot of time. I decided I could live with that change. Except that eighteen episodes a year was a bizarre release schedule… and I began to think about how much better life would be if it were twelve.

This was a hard decision. I love writing the Red Panda stories, and telling six fewer each year was a hard choice. But in terms of the long-term sustainability of the entire project, it was the right choice. Not just from my own state of mind, but frankly the monthly donations are not entirely what they used to be. These are still the folks that keep us on the air, and we love and treasure every single one of ’em past and present, but there are only so many of them and it only goes so far. Fewer recording sessions was more fiscally sustainable. Could I have flogged the donor program more and shepherded it better? Yep. But I’m also not sure when I would have done that. Every moment is spoken for. Even now, writing this, I’ve had to make to conscious decision not to be writing a new episode right now. And no complaints, because I love it, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now some of you may say “Yes, but Gregg, if you weren’t also writing comics and novels and making video comic thingies and instead you just shut up and made us some radio shows, you could make twenty-four a year no problem”. Well… maybe. But I think ten years in it’s pretty clear exactly what will happen if I sit in my comfortable chair and do nothing but make radio shows… and we all deserve more. You, me, the characters we love… there are other opportunities and things that they can only reach by my stepping out of the comfort zone and trying the next thing, and the next. But I never want to give this part of it up, and I hope that we’ve arrived at a place where that’s going to be possible.

And looking back at the past twelve months and all that we’ve done together and all that you have to look forward to with the great season we have ahead of us, I’m finally truly glad that we’ve taken this route. There’s some excellent stuff ahead, and I can honestly say that we’ve been able to hit this milestone and keep the quality up where it should be, and continue to try new things and grow. (Also there are some long-time listeners who become characters as Kickstarter rewards soon, and I’m dyin’ to see how that goes over!)

I hope that somewhere down the road we’ll be able to expand our schedule again… heck there are shows I’ve always wanted to try, but Kit & Trixie won’t give up any more space and I’m too scared of both of them to ask. But in the meantime, I thank you for your kind attention, your unflagging friendship, and your continued support.

‘Nuff said


Posted: August 1, 2014 in Uncategorized


Padraig McKenna – “Map of Ireland with English translations of County names” on a facebook page called “Rare Irish Stuff”

Yasen Peyankov received a Joseph Jefferson award for Steppenwolf’s Morning Star. Other memorable appearances at Steppenwolf include The Wheel, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Hysteria and The Duel, produced in association with European Repertory, the Chicago company Yasen co-founded. His translation of Chekhov’s Ivanov, produced by European Repertory, was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Adaptation and is published by Ivan R. Dee. Yasen was born in Varna, Bulgaria and trained at the The National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts of Sofia, Bulgaria. He is an Associate Professor and Director of Theatre Studies at the Performing Arts Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


(Steppenwolf Theatre Company bio)


His Awards and credits in the U.S 


The Company; Novocaine; U.S. Marshalls; Payback


European Repertory Company: Co-founder; Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead; Ivanov; Scenes from an Execution; Agamemnon; Caligula The Goodman: The Odyssey Court Theatre: Hamlet; Piano; Twelfth Night American Theatre Company: Medea Director Rushforth Productions in Los Angeles: Ladybird University of Illinois at Chicago: We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!, Featuring Loretta; Balm in Gilead; The Seagull European Repertory Company: Macbeth; Out at Sea; Roberto Zucco; Uncle Vanya; Stars in The Morning Sky; SLAVS!; Go Away Go Away Adaptor/Translator The Seagull(University of Illinois at Chicago); Uncle Vanya; Ivanov (published by Ivan R. Dee); Zoyka’s Apartment; Stars in the Morning Sky; Go Away


The Beast (A&E);E-Ring(NBC); The Evidence(ABC); The Unit(CBS) The Practice (ABC); Karen Sisco(ABC); Alias (ABC); Walker: Texas Ranger (CBS); Early Edition (CBS); Turks (CBS)


2002-2003 Fox Fellowship; Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actor (Morning Star); Joseph Jefferson Nomination for Best Actor



Yasen Peyankov was born and raised in Bulgaria where he graduated from the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia . He was trained in the traditions of the Russian naturalistic theatre and the system of K.S. Stanislavski.
Since his arrival In Chicago in 1990 he co-founded the European Repertory Company in 1992 and has worked as an actor in some of the finest theatres in the city—Steppenwolf, Goodman, Court, Next, American Theatre, and many others. His role as Greenspan In “Morning Star” at Steppenwolf earned him a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also received a nomination for Best Adaptation for his translation/adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov, which was consequently published by Ivan R. Dee.
Since 2002, he has been a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble, where he has appeared in Time to Burn, The Time of Your Life (also In Seattle and San Francisco), Berlin Circle, Hysteria, Morning Star, Frankie and Johnny In the Clare De Lune (also In Dublin), Cherry Orchard, Lost Land, The Pillowman, Diary of Anne Frank. He has also directed for University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), European Repertory Company, and Rushfort in Los Angeles , and translated and adapted plays by Anton Chekhov, Mikhall Bulgakov, Nikolal Kolyada, and Vaslly Slgarev. Mr. Peyankov has also appeared on film in The Company directed by Robert Altman, Gifted Hands, Payback , US Marshals, Novocain, Lana’s Rain, and in television shows such as The Beast, The Unit, The Evidence, Alias, Numb3rs, The Practice, Early Edition, and others.
Most recently Mr. Peyankov appeared in the World Premiere of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts at Steppenwolf and directed his own translation of Anton Chekhov’s Seagull at UIC and the Glass Menagerie for Steppenwolf. In May Mr. Peyankov traveled with a group of UIC students to Sofia, Bulgaria to participate in a Theatre Workshop taught by some of the best theatre artists currently working in Sofia.
Mr. Peyankov has been teaching acting at UIC since 2000, and accepted the position of Master Actor in the fall of 2007. He has also taught at The Steppenwolf Summer School, Steppenwolf West, Act One Studio, and the University of Chicago. He is a recipient of a 2002 Walter and Eva Fox Fellowship.
In September of 2009 Yasen Peyankov made his Broadway debut reprising the role of Max Tarasov in Tracy Letts’ newest play Superior Donuts.
(UIC bio) 

I love Eugene O’Neil

Scenes from the Bigger Picture

I just saw a very good production of Eugene O’Neil’s Strange Interlude at the National Theatre in London. As you’d expect from O’Neill, it’s massively ambitious, encompassing several decades in the life of Nina, a woman who is unusually self-possessed and sexually assertive (for a female character in a 1920s American play, anyway…).

The play is also formally experimental, using asides to present the inner thoughts of  the characters. The ensuing contrast between what people say and what they’re thinking is often very funny, but the cumulative effect is to create the impression that in some ways O’Neill is trying to reverse engineer Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in his earlier plays took the inner self and externalised it, not only through the use of soliloquies but also, and more interestingly, by personifying human emotions. Hence, jealousy took the form of the villain John the Bastard in Much Ado, who in turn…

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