The play takes place in a hospital where Big Jim, a tyrannical father, is dying. It features long- estranged Mark, a transgender character who grew up as Big Jim’s daughter, Laura. There’s also Gary, the gay son, and Sullivan, a regular guy, for whom Big Jim was a father figure. The twist in the father/son theme results in difficult confrontations.
Conroy plays Mark, a challenging role but one that she relishes. “I had been watching a lot of theatre and became fascinated by how men are represented. It now feels like there’s a great sense of flux in masculinity. I know it sounds grandiose but it’s no longer acceptable to be what used to be a man. We have a massive rate of young male suicide. I don’t know if there’s a crisis in masculinity but it’s quite a problem that young men are killing themselves.”
With her interest in “how we redefine ourselves, I’m asking what is the making of a man? What is the role of men now? I thought the best way to come at it is with a character that has experienced the world as both a female and a male. There’s a sense of masculinity and femininity from the inside but that’s also imposed upon Mark from the outside.”
While Conroy, from Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, never had gender identity difficulties, she came out as a lesbian when she was about 18.
“I never found it hard to be a girl but I found it hard to be the kind of girl I was supposed to be. I had a feeling of otherness. When you’re young, how do you articulate it? You don’t; you just shut up. You’re kind of watching life as opposed to partaking in it.”
Being gay seems mainstream in the Ireland of today — or is it? “These days, I don’t normally get abused on the street which used to happen. But then I have funny altercations in places I least expect it. It feels like a safer country now. But people are weird. Shit bubbles under the surface all the time. You never quite know what people are going to say or do when they’ve had a few drinks.”
Regardless of the marriage equality legislation, homophobia never goes away, she believes.
“The marriage equality vote was an incredible time. But it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, particularly if these are issues that don’t bother you.”
While issues around sexuality have been part of mainstream debate in recent years, transgenderism is still a fairly new frontier. “I don’t see it as extreme anymore but I understand how people, untouched by those on the transgender journey, might see it as far out. But we’re all human beings and nothing about us is new. It’s just that people are starting to recognise the journey they’re on. In one way, it’s wonderful and in another way, it’s devastating.”
Conroy’s play also deals with memory and how individuals within a family can have widely diverging takes on growing up in any given household. “The play is darkly funny with blistering dialogue. It’s about how memory becomes a false memory because of the added layers of understanding of it. No matter how many times you revisit something, it always gets warped. In the play, each character had a different relationship with Big Ted.”
For Mark, it’s a question of finding a way to say goodbye to his nemesis.
- Luck Just Kissed You Hello is at Cork’s Everyman on Friday and Saturday followed by a tour. For tour details, go to www.hotfortheatre.com