Mark O’Rowe


1970- ; b. Dublin; brought up in Tallaght, Co. Dublin; son of a tool-maker; watched videos; influenced by Mamet, and later Pinter and Beckett; wrote The Aspidistra Code, winner of Young Playwright’s Scheme (NAYD 1995), with characters such as the ruthless loan-shark Drongo and his opposite number Crazy Horse; wrote Sulk and Buzzin’ to Bits for Dublin Youth Theatre (1996);
also Rundown (1996); Anna’s Ankle (Project Arts Centre, 1997), dealing with a snuff-video director’s obsession, written for Bedrock’s Electroshock: A Theatre of Cruelty Season; From Both Hips (Project 1997), his first full-length play, the revenge of a man accidently shot in the hip by drugs squad, was produced by the Fishamble Theatre Co.;
wrote Howie the Rookie (1999), set in Dublin housing-estate among gangland feuds and framed as monologues in which the hero of one becomes the tragic victim in the next; sold out at Bush Theatre, London, and succeeded fringe theatre world-wide; winner of Rooney Prize for Irish literature and The Irish Times/ESB Award for Best New Play; Made in China (Peacock, 2001), a martial arts three-hander in gangland Dublin;
enjoyed succès de scandale with Crestfall (2003), premiered at the Gate Theatre and purportedly celebrating bestiality - a junkie prostitute is hired to fellate a dog; Kissaway (Edinburgh Fringe, 2003), produced by Semper Fi; Intermission (2003), his first film, was directed by Crowley with Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney and others and became the highest-grossing Irish film on release with an overall box-office of $755,118;
scripted Perrier’s Bounty, film; wrote Terminus (Peacock 2007), a tri-monologue with unnamed characters (A, B, and C) - a lonely young woman looking for love; her mother, who is seeking atonement, and a serial killer who has sold his soul to the Devil who address the audience directly; uses rap-rhyme and gonzo; scripted Boy A (2008), based on the novel of Jonathan Trigell; O’Rowe lives in Dublin
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From Both Hips (London: Nick Hern Books 1999); Howie the Rookie (London: Nick Hern Books 1999) [details]; Made in China (London: Nick Hern Books 2001); Crestfall (London: Nick Hern Books 2003); Terminus (London: Nick Hern Books 2008).

Howie the Rookie, premier (Premiered Bush Theatre, London 1999); further venues incl. Performance Space 122 (New York 2002); Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork (17-22 June 2002); Manchester Library Theatre (Rocket Theatre Co., Aug. 2002).

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Cathy Leeney, ‘Men in No-Man’s Land: Performing Urban Liminal Spaces in Two Plays by Mark O’Rowe’, in The Irish Review, 35 [1] (Spring 2007), pp.108-16; Eamonn Jordan, ‘Project Mayhem: Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie’, in The Irish Review, 35 [1] (Spring 2007), pp. 117-31.

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Fiachra Gibbons, 'The Dark Stuff’, interview-article on Mark O’Rowe, in Guardian (24 Nov. 2003): ‘The latest playwright to have popped off the end of this conveyor belt is Mark O’Rowe. He looks and sounds a lot like Conor McPherson, author of The Weir: both are small, thickset, bespectacled Dubliners, who go about their craft with a quiet intensity. Like McPherson, he is 33, prodigiously talented and a master of the monologue. / But here, the analogy begins to break down. Of all the new crop of Irish writers, O’Rowe is most his own man. You only have to hear a line or a phrase of his worldwide fringe hit, Howie the Rookie, to know you are in his particular grimy, vicious and yet mythic urban world of no-hoper hoods, chancers and eejits. / All his plays come from what American playwright Neil LaBute called his “big swirling tornadoes of beautiful words”. It feels sometimes as if you have stepped straight into Finnegans Wake. But Joyce never had O’Rowe’s narrative thump. Then again, Joyce didn’t grow up in Tallaght, a new city in all but name of mainly working-class estates plonked on the edge of south Dublin. / Tallaght, in all its malls and motorway glory, is there before us in the first scene of Intermission, O’Rowe’s sprawling first film - nothing less than a comic Dublin Short Cuts. A huge word-of-mouth hit in Ireland, it is already the highest-grossing Irish-funded film ever. [...]’ (See full text, in RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Reviews”, infra.)

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Jason Zinoman, ‘For Him, the Devil Is in the Rhymes’, review of Mark O’Rowe, Terminus, in New York Times (13 Jan. 2008): ‘[...] Introducing his latest work at a reading uptown last year Mr. O’Rowe explained to a sparse crowd that if he sits down to write a play without any preconceived notions of plot or character, the first thing that usually pops into his head is a sex scene. Then he read a Joycean monologue featuring the image he began writing the play with: a woman falling from a construction crane. What is surprising is not so much that she is saved from certain death by a demon made of worms - the play is Mr. O’Rowe’s most fantastical - but that he then makes love to her with a tenderness that Mr. Rowe is not known for. [...] It was not Mark O’Rowe’s dream to be a playwright. Growing up in the working - class town of Tallaght, the child of a toolmaker and a housewife, he preferred kung fu movies to the theater, which he hardly ever attended. “You couldn’t have set me in front of a drama for love or money”, he said. / That changed when, at the age of 24, he saw the film “House of Games” and joined the generation of young writers who got their start imitating David Mamet, who wrote and directed it. “He seemed very immediate”, Mr. O’Rowe said. “It wasn’t like Shakespeare. It was just, like, three - word sentences.” / From Mamet he found his way to Pinter and then, inevitably, to Beckett, whose novel “Molloy” inspired the structure of “Howie the Rookie”, which received rave reviews in both London and New York. [...] Of course there is the question of how many Irish devils can fit in the New York theater scene. Mr. McPherson has already carved out his niche on Broadway with “The Seafarer”, about a poker game in which Satan holds a formidable hand. When Mr. O’Rowe read that play, he said, he couldn’t help thinking, “Oh no, he’s using the Devil too.” (See full text, in RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Reviews”, infra.]

Mark Schreiber, ‘Mark O’Rowe’, in The Literary Encyclopedia: ‘his theatrical work is mainly concerned with the dystopic underbelly of contemporary urban Ireland: “the underbelly of the Celtic Tiger”’ [online; 30.07.08].

Eamonn Kelly, ‘After Beckett’, review of Terminus, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2008), pp.11-12: ‘Terminus is a lyrical gothic tale about the brutal side of Irish urban life, concerning three characters in various stages of ennui and degradation whose fates intertwine. The play is delivered in three separate monologues in a rhythmic, rhyming rap-style verse which is at once startlingly original while also being reminiscent of older verse-play styles, not to mention Beckettian and Joycean. The style is so attractive that you feel at first that everyone will be tempted to start writing like this. But as the play progresses, the relatively strict rhyming demands of the style become a bit strained, the rhythm attaining a fairly predictable sing-song swing. However, the imagery he conjures more than compensates for this perhaps nitpicking criticism.’ [Quotes as infra.] (p.11.) ‘The C character turns out to be the B character’s mysterious date who in turn turns out to be the A character’s errant daughter on a mission to suicide. So in this sense at least B and C are well met. The play then takes a supernatural turn, sometimes reminiscent of Paradise Lost, a striking allusion to the descent of Dublin into a violent netherworld. The play ends on a compromised redemptive note, invoking supernatural ideas of reincarnation in order to signal a hope of rebirth.’ (p.12.)

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Terminus (2008) - A [40-year old female Samaritan volunteer:] ‘[...] Consider just quitting, splitting home, but my obligation dictates I wait till half past eight when my shift will end, so, until then, it’s back to my chair, my phone, to take more calls which quickly come ...’. B [her 20-year old errant daughter]: ‘[...] We go, see the slo-mo ebb and flow of pub-spill; the mill, the babble, the rabble of wobbling waywards, exiled and aimless, unlike us as, purposeful and double file, like kids on a dare, we head who the fuck knows where?’ C [B’s date]: ‘[...] Number one, I split from crown to chin. He screams and, relishing the din, I hew number two across the throat and gloat as he gouts arterial spray and flays and, jaysus, pirouettes as jets of blood arc round him, like some kind of fountain ...’. (Quoted in Eamonn Kelly, ‘After Beckett’, review of Terminus, in Books Ireland, Feb. 2008, pp.11-12.)

The Aspidistra Code (1995): Brenda and Sonia, head-over-heels in debt, fear the arrival of Drongo, a violent and unpredictable loan-shark. Brendan’s brother Joe has hired Crazy Horse to protect them. The two hard men are old mates but violence threatens once more when Drongo’s code of honour is called into question. [After The Playwrights Database - online; 29.07.08.]

From Both Hips (1997): An urban comic thriller of violation and vengeance in which a Dublin man is set on revenge after he is accidentally shot in the hip by a member of the Drugs Squad. Surrounded by three women (his wife, her sister and his girlfriend), all of whom are determined to advise him - something has got to give. From Both Hips is a cool, fast sweep through the grey no-man’s-land of cops and criminals in contemporary Ireland. [See The Playwrights Database - online; 29.07.08.]

Howie the Rookie (1999): a white knuckle ride through a nightmare Dublin, where enemies and allies are interchangeable and brutal events take on a mythic significance; effortlessly scoops you into the dirty dives of Dublin to reveal a feud of honour regarding a scabies-infested mattress and gangland revenge over lost Siamese fighting fish. [After The Playwrights Database - online; 29.07.08; & Rocket Theatre Howie the Rookie - online.]

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Made in China (2001): Set in a completely re-imagined Dublin underworld, Made in China involves martial artists, rogue cops and savage low-lifes. A dreadful accident causes a violent tug-of-war between two criminal foot soldiers over the loyalty of a third. Self-loathing, guilt and loneliness emerge in this frenzied narrative, which culminates in a blistering battle for survival. [See The Playwrights Database - online; 29.07.08.]

Terminus (2007): Three anonymous characters monologue in lights on stage; the older woman who is alienated from her daughter; the daughter who has joined up with an unknown date in a pub; the date who is a psychopathically violence serial-killer who has sold his soul to the devil.

Boy A (2008) - Boy A (2008), scripted by O'Rowe and based on the novel of Jonathan Trigell in which Jack (24) is released from prison where he has remained since he and another boy murdered a child when they were themselves children. Jack experiences coming-of-age under the mentorship of his social worker Terry while the tabloid press and Terry's real son make trouble for them both. [After Rottentomatoes, online].

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