The Great Blight tells the story of the terrible intolerance that turned the failure of a single crop into the national catastrophe known as the Irish Potato Famine.
In the Potato Famine, over a million people died of starvation and disease. It was blamed on a fungus which blighted and destroyed the Irish potato crop between 1845 and 1851. But that was the lesser cause. During those years Ireland continued to export food to England.
The theory called “political economy,” which held sway at that time, actually taught that the disaster was good for the national well-being. Moreover, the English saw the Irish Catholics as a lower order of humanity. Thus the large land owners could tell themselves that the death of their tenants was serving some higher law.
Martin Malloy is born into a musical family that knows how to live well even in hard times.
He falls in love with Elizabeth, the idealistic daughter of a local squire. Together they read Shelley and Thomas Paine—until her father catches them and packs her off to England.
That same month the blight strikes Ireland’s potatoes. No wealth of good spirits can preserve the family when the British policies turn a serious problem into a historic disaster.
His family almost wiped out, Martin takes a “coffin ship” to Canada and walks to the US.
He finds a cousin in South Carolina and is hired to help manage the slaves on a large plantation.
But one day he hears a slave singing and realizes that the people he is helping persecute have as much humanity as the persecuted in Ireland.
Now he must face the test of his values.
The Great Blight with book and lyrics by Rick Foster and music by David Maloney was first performed at Summerville School in Tuolumne, California on October 25, 1999 and then toured Tuolumne County under the auspices of the L.A.T.C.H program.
The Great Blight has played to audiences including:
- Theatrical runs at Sacramento’s California Stage and Sonora’s Bradford Street Studios
- Folk music festivals in California and Washington
- Folk clubs
- San Francisco Bay Area Schools
- Tuolumne County and Calaveras County Schools
- Private Parties
Suitable for grades 4 and up as well as adults.
Reviews and Comments
Gary Linehan, Sonora Union Democrat, 3/16/2000
‘Blight’ is a Powerful Tale of Love and Death
“The Great Blight,” Rick Foster’s one-man musical drama about the Irish potato famine, arrives in Sonora just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, but as the title implies, there is little joviality in this tale of prejudice, starvation and lost love.
There is, however, every reason to see this show. . . .
Starring as the reluctant vagabond Martin Malloy is David Maloney, an accomplished Bay Area singer and musician who is now adding acting to his resume. It’s a remarkable debut, as he blends song and dialogue seamlessly throughout the hour-long production, never missing a beat either literally or figuratively.
The story takes place between 1845 and 1854, when more than 1 million people died of disease and starvation, even though Ireland continued to export food to England during the entire time.
Without falling into sentimentality, the play remains emotionally charged: “Three grains of corn will keep me till morning, Mama,” one young boy pleads.
It is one of several incidents recalled by Malloy as he is forced to leave Ireland for a supposedly better life in America. Others have to do with his one true love, a young lady wrenched from him by her family over differences between religion and wealth.
It is Malloy’s search for her that propels the play and gives it one of its few elements of hope.
A tribute to Foster’s writing is that no one is free of shame in this play. At first the English take the brunt of guilt, but the Americans prove little better and even Malloy harbors prejudice against the slaves he encounters in South Carolina.
But music eventually brings them together, and leads to Malloy’s salvation.
“The Great Blight” is directed by Thomas F. Maguire for Duende: Drama & Literature. It’s an intense tale, yet ultimately uplifting, and not to be missed.
From an Educator
Our eighth grade students recently had the privilege of watching a performance of The Great Blight brought to us by Duende: Drama & Literature.
It is hard to capture 8th graders’ interest-but they were a rapt audience! They empathized with the performer as he told tales of the hardships he endured and they greatly enjoyed the songs and variety of instruments he played.
In addition, the play sparked students’ interest in Ireland and their own ancestry. They asked the author and performer many questions about the era of immigration. Some even looked up Ireland on the Internet later. Having the author here to tell about how he conceived and wrote the play was a learning experience that sparked our students to write their own plays.
We have not had a performance of this caliber before! The rich history and song woven through it made learning painless for our students. I heartily recommend booking this production for your school.
Judy Borgquist, Principal, Tenaya School,
Comments from middle school students
Dear Mr. David Maloney,
Thank you very much for the outstanding performance you put on for our school. We all appreciated the hard work you put into it. The songs were wonderful! They were informative as well as entertaining. The performance was thorough and the story behind it was captivating. We wish you the best of luck in your future shows.
Respectfully yours, 7-A
Dear Mr. Maloney,
Thank you for your taking time to give a wonderful performance to our class. “The Great Blight” opened many of our eyes to the potato famine and the strength and courage of the Irish. Your story telling, singing, and acting added to our enjoyment. The extensive research you described has certainly paid off. We look forward to seeing more of your productions.
Sincerely, Class of 2000
Availability and Pricing
Please contact Duende regarding production or performance rights for this play.