The New York Draft Riots of 1863 are nasty pieces of carnage to place under theatre’s lens, not the least because the wounds are still oozing.  One example that tried—and failed–to portray the period, Maggie Flynn, starred husband and wife Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy: in 1968, Cassidy won a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical, but the show closed after 82 performances.  Apparently the subject had morphed into a combination of Rodgers and Hammerstein-like musical, antiwar sentiment toward Vietnam, and orphanage burning (a true event).  A more accurate and astute rendering, albeit cinematic, appeared in 2002—A. O. Scott called Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, based on Herbert Asbury’s 1928 novel, “a near-great movie,” although he didn’t feel it illuminated the lives of women during the time; in the New Yorker, David Denby missed not having the inclusion of the Black perspective in a film that was also too graphically violent.  Kevin Baker’s novel on the same subject, Paradise Alley, appeared that year as well–but Banished Children of Eve, Peter Quinn’s 612-page unfurling mural of a novel came out earlier (it was published in 1994 and won the American Book Award).  Asked to write a script based on the book, Kelly Younger recalls not having any idea of how to “connect all the different stories.”  As he told playwright Adam Szymkovicz, the solution only hit him, fueled by panic and caffeine, half an hour before his meeting with the Irish Repertory Theatre:“There are these two characters-–an Irish man and an African-American woman—who are both actors in a shoddy production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin:  He is a minstrel actor and she is a mulatto actress who lightens her skin with stage makeup.  In other words, he plays in blackface and she plays in whiteface. That’s when I figured out it is essentially a Romeo and Juliet story with two warring families . . . all living on top of one another in the Bowery district and violently competing for the bottom rung of the social ladder.”

Although the demands of adaptation take their toll on Banished Children of Eve, Younger is right regarding this point. He has found a way to dramatize the material, even retaining a musical element from the book (incorporating the songs and down-and-out life of Stephen Foster).  The perspective of Waldo Capshaw, the “Protestant True American,” may need more clarification, but theatergoers get a chance to see the lot of African-Americans–their segregation, stereotyping, and scapegoating–and Catholics; here they aren’t singing nuns (The Sound of Music) or loutish bullies (Ragtime)–they’re not even suspected pedophiles (Doubt)!  The immigrants who fled Ireland in the mid-1800s probably couldn’t imagine that after famine and suppression the next hand they’d be dealt would be military conscription in a new country—where the wealthy could buy their way out or find substitutes.  There wasn’t enough remove for the Civil War to be considered as anything other than the fight to free the Southern slaves (who were barred from fighting in the beginning of the war—and who could be competitive in the labor market later). When civil insurrection exploded from July 13 to 17 of 1863 there were no authorities who could contain it—as Peter Quinn describes, “mobs roamed the streets, sacking stores and saloons, attacking government offices and arsenals, intimidating the upper classes, and inflicting a reign of terror on the city’s African Americans.  The perpetrators were largely—though not exclusively—Irish, as were many of the policemen and troops who fought them.”

“This is interesting,” a theatergoer behind me commented, as if he thought he’d been hauled in to watch ten hours of accountants reviewing tax returns. I couldn’t have agreed more, actually—I even brought my daughter who had studied the riots in school and knew them as “the history New Yorkers try to forget.”  One of the city’s best kept secrets, the Irish Repertory Theatre produced The Emperor Jones last year, also directed by Ciaran O’Reilly–it was an inspired interpretation of O’Neill with a brilliant performance by John Douglas Thompson in a run that was moved and extended.  Here, O’Reilly again shows his mastery of keeping a tiny stage fluid—while creating indelible stage pictures and music (watch the opening and end of Banished Children of Eve to see him composing with street sounds). The ensemble is uniformly fine, including Patrice Johnson, David Lansbury, Christopher Borger, Amber Gray, and Malcolm Gets to only name five.  Ultimately, however, despite Younger’s gift for story, his characters beg for more direct, shattering confrontations–a larger range of emotional territory can be covered when we consider the idea of responsibility toward others (which is integral here): The play ends as if the issues announced by the New York Draft Riots simply resolved—racial tensions eased, Blacks gained more freedom, and the Irish acquiesced to being drafted.  The road was rockier than that—and still is. We don’t know where the new Draft Riots or Crown Heights will emerge or under what guise.  As recently as this year—coincidentally in July—former presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan charged into the public discourse crying foul—and bigotry–this time in the hallowed halls of the nation’s finest Universities.  He compared our academic elite to the snobby “WASPs of yesterday. While Ivy League recruiters prefer working-class to middle-class black kids with the same test scores, the reverse is true with white kids . . .  For admissions officers at our top private and public schools, diversity is ‘a code word’ for particular prejudices.

“For these schools,” he continues “are not interested in a diversity that would include ‘born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower- and middle-class Catholics, working-class 'white ethnics,' social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children or older students just starting into college and raising children.”

The more things change, the more things stay the same.


© 2010 by Bob Shuman

Photo (c) C. Rosegg  

World Premiere
Banished Children of Eve
by Kelly Younger
adapted from the novel by Peter Quinn

October 13 – December 5, 2010

Buy Tickets Now

The Irish Repertory Theatre commissioned playwright Kelly Younger to write this bristling drama, adapted from Peter Quinn’s epic novel, set during the Civil War in New York City.

Against the backdrop of the dangerous, sweltering Civil War summer of 1863, the Bowery explodes with racial tension and the City of New York rushes headlong toward the fatal July draft riots. Moving to the music and rhythms of these dangerous times, a diverse band of characters is drawn together in a net of intrigue and  violence.

Jack Mulcahy leading an Irish minstrel troupe, stars opposite his true love, a beautiful Mulatto girl who whites her face and crosses the ice as Eliza in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. On the blistering streets outside, corrupt Tammany Hall bosses plot to take advantage of the chaos to enrich themselves whilst destroying any hopes of escape to a place of freedom and peace for Jack and his little family. The famous songwriter, Stephen Foster, himself one of the BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE, wends his way through this entrancing drama as he produces the beautiful melodies which have given the country its lasting evocation of the times.

BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE received developmental support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional scenic design funding support is provided by The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund.

Performance Schedule:

Schedule Change:

Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm

No performance on Thanksgiving Day – Thursday, November 25th

Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday at 3pm

A 3pm performance on Friday, November 26th has been added

Approx. Running Time: 120 min, including intermission



Christopher Borger


Rory Duffy

Mike Manning/Ensemble

Malcolm Gets

Stephen Collins Foster

Amber Gray


Patrice Johnson

Euphemia Blanchard

David Lansbury

Jack Mulcahey

Graeme Malcolm

Waldo Capshaw

Kern McFadden

Mr. Miller/Ensemble

Jonny Orsini

Jimmy Dunne

Amanda Quaid

Margaret O'Driscoll


Artistic Team:



Ciaran O'Reilly


Barry McNabb

Set Design

Charlie Corcoran

Costume Design

Martha Hally

Lighting Design

Brian Nason

Sound Design

Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery

Hair and Wig Design

Robert-Charles Vallance

Songs Arranged by

Malcolm Gets

Fight Director

Rick Sordelet

Specialty Prop Design and Construction

Den Design Studio


Deirdre Brennan

Production Stage Manager

Pamela Brusoski

Assistant Stage Manager

Rebecca C. Monroe

What the Critics Have to Say…

"Director Ciarán O’Reilly skillfully weaves the multiple narrative threads with specificity and clarity. Banished Children of Eve is uncannily resonant." – Time Out New York

"The Irish Repertory Theatre is presenting one of its most ambitious works: it succeeds impressively. Kudos for mounting this superior production, which melds historical information with theatrical excitement, with a bit of music, song, and dance skillfully injected." – Epoch Times

"IT'S AN ELECTRIFYING PIECE OF HISTORY THAT DIRECTOR CIARÁN O'REILLY AND HIS FINE ENSEMBLE BRING TO THE STAGE WITH FLAIR. The production's opening moments sweep audiences back in time cinematically as company members begin shifting the arced walls and stair units that comprise Charlie Corcoran's scenic design circularly around the stage, and characters ranging from a Fulton Street fishmonger to a busker hawking a minstrel show that boasts scenes from Uncle Tom's Cabin enter. Their words spill onto one another and THE CACOPHONY BRINGS A CROWDED METROPOLIS OF A BYGONE ERA THRILLINGLY TO LIFE." – Theatremania

"Placing large historical events in the context of ordinary people's lives can bring the past back to life. The world premiere of "Banished Children of Eve" succeeds in this resurrection, as AN ABSORBING, INTIMATE MELODRAMA about a small, diverse group of New Yorkers caught up in the Draft Riots of 1863, a week of racial and mob violence that tore up Civil War Manhattan. WRITING BY KELLY YOUNGER, STRONG PERFORMANCE AND LOVELY SINGING MAKE FOR A RICH THEATRICAL EVENING. This Irish Rep production brings an eventful bygone era to thrilling life." – Associated Press

"One of the main things you have to love about The Irish Repertory Theatre is that it doesn’t occur to them that they cannot fit the world on their stage. Thank God for that. THIS FINE, FINE CAST BRINGS TO LIFE A CORNUCOPIA OF PEOPLE. Kelly Younger and the director Ciarán O'Reilly (who also gave us The Emperor Jones last season) have cherry-picked the exact right number of characters and stories to fill the stage to bursting. Charlie Corcoran has created a stage that literally revolves and reveals world within world. Serenaded most admirably by Mr. Gets simple and extraordinary singing, THIS PLAY IS POSITIVELY GLORIOUS. I am off to get a copy of Quinn’s The Banished Children of Eve, because two splendid hours is just not enough time for me to have with these characters and their stories. Our only frontier now is history and the many stories that have been forgotten or denied us.  Congratulations to these folk for resurrection an important chapter of our shared tale. Bravo. Next drink is on me." – New York Theatre Guide

"It is an ambitious undertaking, AND EXTREMELY WELL EXECUTED. The sweeping scope of this play is surprisingly well handled in the limited space of the Irish Repertory Theatre, kudos to Charlie Corcoran’s set design which is innovative and perfectly rendered. Mr. Lansbury and young Mr. Borger are excellent, but Ms. Gray stands out as the heart and soul of this show. She is a luminous presence that is slowly and painfully dimmed. Stephen Foster, is drinking himself into oblivion; he stands both part of and apart from the drama unfolding around him. Malcolm Gets, an accomplished and familiar performer, provides the steady hand and perfect responses he always does (and) provides a perfect grounding for the action on stage. IT IS A SWEEPING STORY, BEAUTIFULLY TOLD. Director Ciaran O’Reilly handles this subject matter effortlessly. Stunning." – ReviewsOffBroadway.com

"This is an excellent ensemble. Malcolm Gets is able, believable, and admirably restrained. AMBER GRAY IS A SPITFIRE, A CONSISTENT AND COMPELLING SOURCE OF THEATRICAL ENERGY. HELL, CON ED COULD HOOK UP TO THIS LADY AND MANAGE THE EASTERN SEABOARD. Gray is a talented, potent actress with accomplished range. We are with her experience. Patrice Johnson’s role reminded me of a witch from Macbeth. Her vigorous performance and ominous, cultivated persona is worthy of Shakespeare or Greek Tragedy. Amanda Quaid brings a very real quality to her practical housemaid. Her actions and reactions actually seem to stem from growing awareness.  Kelly Younger (Playwright) has crafted a dark, moving tale into which we’re drawn by the specificity of characters invented by Peter Quinn (author). Parallel, then entwining stories offer real insight into the stereotypes, superstition, subjugation, fear, anger and unavoidable? tragedies of the time. WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN A LESSON OR POLEMIC IS A DRAMATIC EVENING OF COMPREHENSIBLE, PROVOCATIVE THEATER. Director, Ciaran O’Reilly has shaped a robust and many shaded production. His stage is used beautifully, the players interact as we feel they must, emotions are shown equally well in lock-down and raw exposure. The hefty substance of the piece is kept from any motion to sink. Fights are well done. Grief is palpable. Bravo Charlie Corcoran! (Set Design) Rotating round walls (on tracks) are wonderfully unexpected and effective. They slide in front of and behind one another fluidly creating rooms like environments, not sets. And oh the rampaging mob! Brian Nason (Lighting Design) and Christian Frederickson and Ryan Rumery (Music and Sound Design) have concocted the light, sound, and visuals of an uncontrollable onslaught. Martha Halley’s costumes couldn’t be better. Banished Children Of Eve is rich tapestry of regrettable history about which I’d venture few people are aware, undoubtedly why The Irish Repertory Company commissioned it…an interesting, entertaining and informative evening which may bring up discussion of too many similar situations today. " – WomanAroundTown.com

"AN ASTONISHING AND ELOQUENT PRODUCTION OF “BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE” WHICH TAKES PLACE IN NEW YORK CITY’S BOWERY SECTION CIRCA 1863 HAS JUST OPENED THE IRISH REP’S 23RD SEASON. It is a world premiere by playwright Kelly Younger adapted from the novel by Peter Quinn that is directed with care and insight by Ciaran O’Reilly. On a clever Charlie Corcoran circular set that is rotated by members of the cast and crew to allow for the various locations to smoothly fall into view the Irish and the Blacks try to join forces against the Yanks during the riots that broke out because of the introduction of a mandatory draft – unless you had three hundred dollars to pay to be excused or could escape to Canada. Both The Paddys and the Niggers feel the pressure especially backstage at a local Minstrel Show where the highlight is Uncle Tom’s Cabin enacted by a drunken Jack Mulcahey (AN EXCELLENT DAVID LANSBURY) and his true love Eliza (A WONDROUS AMBER GRAY) a Cuban actress – as black actresses were not allowed on stage. There is a young black man – Squirt (A TERRIFIC CHRISTOPHER BORGER) who performs with Jack on the streets to make extra cash. His talent belies the fact that he is only fourteen. The overall effect is very moving as we realize we haven’t made much progress over the years with the same problem of discrimination still rearing its ugly head.  We are not in the same boat anymore, but as Euphemia states 'we are drowning in the same water.' " – TalkEntertainment.com

Visit Stage Voices blog: http://stagevoices.typepad.com/stage_voices

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *