A play premiering this week at Pioneer Playhouse demonstrates just how seriously Danville takes its relationship with sister city, Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.
The Search for Tinker Doyle, by Danville playwright Elizabeth Orndorff, is a comedy about a Danville couple who travel to Carrickfergus, each with different motives. The husband, who is mayor of Danville, is there on business. But his wife is secretly searching for her long-lost love, Tinker Doyle, a Carrickfergus native she romanced one glorious summer when she was in college.
"She's always wondered what happened to him," says Orndorff. 'We've all wondered that kind of thing, haven't we? Asked ourselves, 'What does that old boyfriend look like?'"
"She does locate him," says Robby Henson, the play's director, "but he's changed in surprising ways."
Orndoff wrote the play after visiting Carrickfergus as part of an artist exchange program organized by the Danville Sister Cities Commission. She spent a month in Carrickfergus in late 2012 learning about the people and places of Carrickfergus, and giving workshops and talks while Carrickfergus installation artist Janet Crymble spent a month in Danville.
Once Pioneer Playhouse confirmed The Search for Tinker Doyle in this summer's lineup, a movement to celebrate Irish culture in general and Carrickfergus in particular sprang up around it.
A five-day Irish festival started Wednesday in Danville, and Pioneer Playhouse worked with a Belfast casting agency to hire Kieran Cunningham, an award-winning stage and film actor from Northern Ireland who has appeared in Game of Thrones and the hit U.K. show Coronation Street, to play Tinker Doyle.
"Jennifer Kirchner, head of the Boyle County Department of Tourism, came up with the idea for hosting an Irish festival," Henson says.
The festival includes Celtic music, storytelling, dance, and demonstrations of sports such as hurling and cricket, plus children's activities.
"The whole town has been really involved," Orndoff says.
In addition to the Danville Sister Cities Commission and Pioneer Playhouse, support for the sister city cultural celebration has come from Alltech founder Pearse Lyons, the Danville/Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Heart of Danville, the Community Arts Center, Boyle County Public Library and Centre College.
Churches are participating, too.
"I wrote to all the downtown churches to see if they would want to incorporate any Celtic elements into their services," Orndorff says. "I included some Celtic prayers and Celtic hymns, and four of the churches have let me know that they're going to include some Celtic elements in their services on Sunday."
Cunningham, who also is a musician, will be singing and playing at the Presbyterian Church. He already has performed at McCarthy's Irish Bar and says he is enjoying his first visit to Kentucky.
In addition to his film work, Cunningham, now based in Manchester, England, regularly appears on stage at venues such as the Royal Exchange Theatre. He was intrigued by the idea of doing something totally different.
Summer stock theater in Kentucky certainly qualified.
"It's what attracted me to the place," says Cunningham. "It's just a completely different take, different to what I am used to back home.
"I must have brought the weather with me," he joked about the rain.
Of Kentucky, he says, "I'm absolutely in love with it. The people are so lovely, and I've been treated like royalty since I got here."
IF YOU GO
'The Search for Tinker Doyle'
What: World premiere production of Elizabeth Orndorff's play
When: Through July 20; dinner at 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30
Where: Pioneer Playhouse, 840 Stanford Rd., Danville
Tickets: $16 adults, $9 ages 12 and younger for show only; $28 adults, $15 ages 12 and younger for dinner and show. 1-866-597-5297. Pioneerplayhouse.com.
Danville Irish Festival
10:30 a.m.: Irish storytelling and crafts for kids. Boyle County Public Library, 307 W. Broadway St.
Noon: Irish tea and scones. The Farm Bed and Breakfast, 450 Waterworks Rd. $10; reservations required. (859) 583-0244.
Noon: Irish-themed lunch at participating downtown restaurants
3 p.m.: Robert Tincher and supernatural ballads. Boyle County Public Library. Free.
4-7 p.m.: Shamrock Stroll at downtown bars and restaurants with arts, crafts and books for sale; strolling troubadours and bagpipes. Kieran Cunningham performs at V The Market, 130 S. Fourth St. The Draper Family performs at Beer Engine, 107 Larrimore Ln.
10:30 p.m.: After-show party at Pioneer Playhouse; meet the playwright and Tinker Doyle actors.
10 a.m.: Hands-on Hurling: Learn to Play. Great American Dollhouse Museum field, 344 Swope Dr, Free.
Noon-7 p.m.: Party at the Park. Irish food and drink, music, dance and performances. Constitution Square, 134 S. Second St.
8 a.m.: Bicycle Ride for the Irish Gold. Danville Bike & Fitness, 417 W. Main St.
9:30 a.m.: Celtic service and worship. Danville churches.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.