A Touch of Celebrity on Our 16th Anniversary

My wife, Marilynn Richtarik, and I will always remember what we were doing for our 16th wedding anniversary—launching her book in Dublin and talking football with Northern Irish actor Stephen Rea.

People younger than we are may not be familiar with Rea, who earned an Oscar nomination in 1992 for his role in “The Crying Game.” He’s a prolific and highly regarded actor on both stage and screen who agreed to read from the Stewart Parker novel that Marilynn edited, “Hopdance,” because he and Parker had been good friends and moved in the same theatrical circles. More about that later.

Scenes from ‘Hopdance’

In a strong yet understated performance, Rea nailed the reading of four scenes from “Hopdance,” a vignette-driven, semi-autobiographical work about the amputation of his left leg at age 19 that Parker first completed in the early 1970s but never published during his lifetime.

The final vignette, a crowd favorite, described the protagonist, Tosh, listening in as several other amputees chat in the waiting room at the limb-fitter’s shop. One man, a welder, tells of how his artificial leg gave way on the job and was patched by a riveter, who the welder said “done a right fine job” of repairing the leg, much to the consternation of the limb-fitter.

The four dozen or so gathered at the Workman’s Club for the launch were mesmerized during the reading. Marilynn is a fine reader, but the final passage Rea read requires the right accents and a man’s touch to create magic out of a tale of several blokes sitting around in their underpants waiting for their artificial legs to be fitted.

Talking Arsenal football

Marilynn knew from her past dealings with Rea that he supports the English Premier League team Arsenal, the team Declan and I also support. For the occasion, Declan wore one of his many Arsenal jerseys, which immediately caught Rea’s eye. When we asked for a picture with the family, he readily agreed “as long as the Arsenal supporter is in it.” And, as you can see, we all were there.

We told Rea about watching Arsenal play rival Manchester City to a tie at the Emirates in April, and he said he had tickets to the FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea later this month. We also talked about embattled manager Arsene Wenger, who Declan and I both wish would quit after 20 years (including 13 years without a league title). However, Rea believes he should be allowed to stay beyond his current contract.

Anyway, who’s to argue with a celebrity?

A little history, please

Nearly 40 years ago, Rea and the late Northern Irish playwright Brian Friel founded the Field Day Theatre Company that aimed to bring plays and literary works to both sides of the sectarian divide during the Troubles. Field Day was the subject of Marilynn’s first book, and she interviewed Rea for it.

Stewart Parker, who died of stomach cancer at the age of 47 in 1988, wrote his final play, “Pentecost,” for Field Day, which it produced in fall 1987 with Rea in a starring role. Marilynn didn’t become familiar with Parker’s work until 1989 but spent the next 20 years researching his life and work for her 2012 book, “Stewart Parker: A Life.”

Stephen Rea and Northern Irish actor Frances Tomelty, who appeared in several TV films that Parker wrote the scripts for, hosted a public event that was part of a conference at Queen’s University Belfast that commemorated the 20th anniversary of Parker’s death.

When Marilynn’s publisher, The Lilliput Press, was working with Rea to find a date, he picked May 12, our anniversary. Again, who’s to argue with a celebrity who’s giving freely of his time? So that’s how Stephen Rea came to help us celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary.

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