BROUGHT to life for a fancy dress party in West Cork, a Tupperware-obsessed civil servant and her man-eating British cousin have had audiences in stitches ever since.
When former solicitor, now theatre director and actress Karen Minihan, and her friend, schoolteacher Terri Leiber, turned up at a fancy dress party in Ballydehob some years ago, they could never have guessed the outcome.
“The idea was born in 2009 when Terri and I came, quite separately, to a fancy dress party — me as Eileen, Terri as Marilyn,” recalls Karen.
An avowed Daniel O’Donnell fan, and doyenne of middle-class passive aggression, her character Eileen is a traditional-minded, stolid west Cork matron obsessed with Tupperware and shattered by the recent end of her 14-year marriage.
“There’s a little bit of Eileen in all of us. Everyone has met an Eileen,” observes Minihan.
Outwardly glamorous, self-assured and even feisty, her friend, English ex-actress Marilyn Silverman, is, however, deeply insecure, desperate for love and stability.
She drinks too much and her choices in life, observes Minihan, often tend towards the questionable.
Although Marilyn is not a blood relation of Eileen, she clings to a tentative family link, insisting that she and Eileen are first cousins.
It makes, observes Minihan, for a turbulent friendship.
“Terri and I arrived at that party without foreknowledge of each’s other’s personas, but when they met, the characters really gelled,” she recalls.
To the hilarity of the assembled party-guests, the characters quickly found a life of their own.
On foot of that impromptu appearance, the duo was invited to do a Christmas Show in Ballydehob and their first official play, Eileen and Marilyn’s Christmas Story, was born.
It was followed six weeks later by Eileen and Marilyn’s Valentine’s Day — Not.
Requests for more performances flowed in.
Minihan and Leiber duo never looked back, annually performing the latest in a series built around Eileen and Marilyn’s complex relationship, taking in a Greek holiday, a community social and a trip to New York, as well as their latest offering, Eileen and Marilyn — The Prelude.
The performances of these cabaret comedies, co-written with musical director Norman Collins, have been playing to packed venues throughout west Cork for more than six years.
“Audiences are intrigued by the characters and the relationship between these two very unlikely friends, by the sniping between them and by the fact that they still retain this deep friendship,” says Minihan.
As Minihan and Leiber, who is actually a former actress, prepare for a busy spring touring West Cork, they are also looking to urban venues.
“We’d very much like to bring the plays to Cork city,” says Minihan.
“We’re seeking interested theatres or venues to perform the plays.
“We’re ready to take the plays to larger venues or to participate in events such as festivals or at the National Ploughing Championships.
“We haven’t really been promoting ourselves. We became successful in west Cork through word of mouth but we’d now also like to perform before larger audience in more urban settings.”