Back to Patrick Fitzgerald's Page

Thanks to Brendan O'. for the headsup to this article on Tuesday, January 26, 1999

From this web page:

"Irish Troupe Suffers for Its Art "
by Jim Dwyer

(there's a nice pic of Patrick as the Vagabond on that webpage too!)

In five seconds, Patrick Fitzgerald, star of the show, will gallop up the aisle and hop onto stage, trailed by his dog, Cola.

It is Saturday afternoon in a tiny Off-Broadway theater. Just three more performances of "The Shaughraun" to go, and all of them are sold out. The reviews have been ecstatic. Many have said the play — a 19th century comic melodrama — is the best thing to hit the stage all season.

Surely, the moments to come will be the best of the whole thrilling run.

Now, Fitzgerald trots toward the aisle, picking up steam with each step, glancing back to see that Cola is keeping up. Then Cola drops a prop she is carrying in her mouth, a stuffed grouse.

"C'mon girl," Fitzgerald whispers urgently. They have a cue to make. She gets a new grip on the bird, and Fitzgerald tries to make up the lost instant by almost flying to the stage. He is nearly there when his foot catches on something. As he sprawls forward, he jabs his left hand at a metal ladder that is bolted onto the scenery. The hand catches behind the ladder bars, but he is still propelled forward, and pitches onto the stage. The hand remains jammed in the ladder. He has cracked the entire length of a bone in his hand.

He picks himself up. "You'd want to be careful around here," ad-libs Fitzgerald. "A young fella could kill himself." Fortunately, his appearance in this scene lasts just a few seconds.

He walked backstage and passed out from the pain. A few other cast members helped him into a dressing room. The hand was bleeding. They found ice up at the concession stand, and he stuck his hand into it.

"It's probably just the shock," said Fitzgerald, wincing. On stage, the play continued. Fitzgerald was not due back for another 10 minutes or so. Someone found a bottle of Advil, and he swallowed four tablets. He rigged his scarf as a sling, to protect the hand as he plays the "shaughraun" of the title, an Irish word meaning vagabond. Dressed like a bum and grinning like a fool, the shaughraun is actually agile in mind and body. He swings through windows and climbs along roofs. Accused by a priest of violating a pledge against drinking, he replies that he took just "one thimble-full a day, just to take the cruelty out of the water." To accommodate his throbbing hand, Fitzgerald curtailed the acrobatics. The cast, 14 altogether, never broke stride.

The show, a matinee, ended just after 5:30 p.m. Fitzgerald jumped into a cab with Ciaran O'Reilly, the show's producer and a cast member.

They were due back on stage at 8 p.m. for the next performance, which was sold out weeks ago. Among the cast, there was but one understudy, a fellow named Banjo. He couldn't stand in for Fitzgerald, though: Banjo is the son of Cola.

Ten years ago, O'Reilly and Charlotte Moore started the Irish Repertory Theater because they felt like it. They had no known money, no theater, no actual chance of making it. Now, 30,000 people a year see four shows a year in a little theater on W. 22nd St. they and friends built with their own hands.

In their first production, they cast Fitzgerald, a young man who had never set foot on stage, in "The Plough and the Stars." Like most of the theater's company, he worked a half-dozen other jobs to keep himself alive. In one bar, he was paid to kill rats in the basement. Now 36, he has played on Broadway, with Steppenwolf in Chicago, and appears in a TV series called "Poltergeist: The Legacy."

"In 10 years, I never missed a show," said Fitzgerald. "I never missed a cue." Someone phoned area emergency rooms, all of which said he had no chance of making an 8 p.m. curtain. Only Beth Israel offered a glimmer, but no guarantee.

Fitzgerald walked out into a wall of fog that covered E. 16th St., with O'Reilly explaining to a triage nurse why his companion looked like a bum and why they had to hurry.

"He's still dressed as his character," said O'Reilly.

"I never ask," said the nurse.

They registered, were given a new plastic ID card, sent for X-rays, then parked in a room with a million other people. O'Reilly looked at his watch. It was after 7. Not only was poor Fitzgerald's arm in need of attention, O'Reilly had a full house of paying customers waiting. He found someone in a white coat and laid out the urgency.

"Then we'll have to get going," replied Cheryl Greenstein, a physician's assistant, and she began wrapping Fitzgerald's arm in hot plaster.

They caught a taxi. "Are you smoking?" asked the driver.

"It's just the plaster on my arm," said Fitzgerald.

At 8:01, as their cab pulled onto 22nd St. As O'Reilly paid, they could see the lobby lights flicking on and off.

Fitzgerald called his dog, and they stood at the back of the theater. In five seconds, they would gallop up the aisle.

Original Publication Date: 01/26/1999