Brian Friel’s play Translations is being given a handsome revival by the Manhattan Theatre Club, in a production that focuses on the beauty of Mr. Friel’s powerful language. Indeed the power of language and the challenge to communicate are themes found in the unfortunately flawed play.
Translations was given an American premiere almost 25 years ago in 1981 produced then by MTC as well, and the play was revived again in 1995. The story takes place in 1883 and is set in the Irish speaking fictional Gaelic town of Ballybeg, a place the playwright has explored in his play Dancing at Lughnasa. The story depicts clashing cultures and the misfortunes in miscommunications.
The playwright introduces us to a “hedge school” set in an old grey barn that is now used as a schoolroom, where most of the action takes place. The school is run by the educated and hard drinking Hugh (Niall Buggy), who is assisted by his brooding son Manus (David Costabile).
The evening begins in the schoolroom where a mute woman is learning to speak her name. Soon thereafter a British regiment will arrive to re-make the map of the region, so it will comply with a Royal decree that all Irish names must be translated into English. The apparently simple task ultimately reveals an unfortunate scheme.
Part of the British contingent is the impressionable Lieutenant Yolland (Chandler Williams), who falls in love with the countryside, the Irish language which he cannot speak, and the feisty Maire (Susan Lynch), who is planning to run away to America.
The two actors have a beautiful love scene that works nicely with the plays central concept that the audience understands everything, but the Irish and English characters cannot comprehend one another. The scene is the evening’s highlight. She speaks not a word of English, and he cannot speak Gaelic, yet the two manage to communicate their passion for one another by demonstrating their feelings while repeating a list of Gaelic names. The result is comically endearing.
The wonderful cast includes Michael Fitzgerald, Morgan Hallett, Geraldine Hughes, Alan Cox, Graeme Malcolm and Dermot Crowley.
The play with its beautiful poetic language is challenging to produce and the production helmed by the Tony Award winning Irish director Garry Hynes is not without merit. The design by Francis O’Connor is very good, and the lighting by Davy Cunningham is outstanding.
Playwright Brian Friel has filled Translations with towering language, much like his play Faith Healer, that was given an acclaimed Broadway production last season , but he cannot disguise the play’s meandering structure or his ending that leaves you feeling confused. Friel’s beautiful poetic language is certainly impressively engaging, but much like Faith Healer, Translations failed dramatically to move me.
gordin & chrisiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
Translations opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 West 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, on January 25, 2007. Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200, or online at HYPERLINK "http://www.telecharge.com" www.telecharge.com or at the box office.