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A CurtainUp Review
Translations at the McCarter Theater By Simon Saltzman
Coinciding with the acquisition by the Princeton University Library of a significant and valued collection (more than 1,000 items) of classic, contemporary and rare Irish dramatic literature is Irish playwright Brian Friels 1980 play Translations, as staged by the McCarter Theatre. The plans for this co-production with the Manhattan Theatre Club include a transfer to MTCs Broadway venue the Biltmore Theater.
Under the studied and deferential direction of Garry Hynes, Tony award-winner for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Translations seems to have lost some of the translation in the large expanse of the McCarters Matthews Theater. Hopefully, it will recover its inherent ability to amuse and admonish us in the shallower depths of the Biltmore. Hearing Friels lovely words distinctly is clearly an issue, and a disconcerting one, that should be addressed by the director and the fine company of actors charged with delivering them.
Ironically, words matter less in the plays most memorable scene when a Gaelic-speaking peasant girl and a British soldier have a romantic, understandably humorous cross-cultural flirtation without either able to comprehend a word the other is saying. In another delightful scene, a whiskey-swigging, Gaelic-speaking old Irish schoolmaster, who evidently never heard of order in the classroom, lavishes upon his often preoccupied peasant students the glories of the Latin and Greek cultures and languages. This he does with relish, as he also tries to come to terms with the invasion of the English and their language into his world. Although the play contains some Gaelic, the dialogue is in English even when characters are speaking Gaelic.
This beautifully written, if sad, study of the erosion of an aesthetically graced culture is set mostly in an outmoded hedge school in the town-land of Baile Beag/Bally Beg, in the community of County Donegal. The year is 1833, just four years after the Catholic Emancipation and a brigade of British Redcoats is enforcing an edict — that all Irish place names be translated into English. While it is both painful and somewhat mournful to see these earthy people, who for centuries have been exalted by their paradoxically floridly imaginative language, suddenly being reduced to "standardized" English, it is seen as only part of the educational, social and political upheaval that alters the relationships in Friels informed play.
If at first the well-intentioned, benign and presumably supportive changes and sudden linguistic barriers dont exactly create an upheaval among Friels rather complacent flock in their newly administered society, the cautious optimism of both Hugh (Niall Buggy), the intellectually stirring schoolmaster, and his one son, Owen (Alan Cox), now a successful Dublin businessman who works for the British as an interpreter, is soon to turn a little sour. Manus (David Costabile), the other son, who has remained as heir to his fathers tutorial legacy, remains pessimistic about the invaders long-term effect. Lame since infancy, Manus also becomes increasingly despondent by the kindling romance between his once intended girlfriend Maire (Susan Lynch) and the handsome, eager-to-be-assimilated Lieutenant Yolland (Chandler Williams).
The sad dichotomy of a family of scholars, and the misguided good intentions of a favored nation upon a resolutely insularly spiritual people, resound throughout the play. Not so paradoxically, the play resonates poignantly in light of the Americanization of Iraq. Certainly the British, among other gestures, will build new schools to replace the makeshift hedge schools and reassess the taxes for the common good. The set, the creation of designer Francis OConnor, is an old grey almost barren barn, notable for its massive shaky doors and a wooden stairway without guard rails leading to the rafters. Davy Cunninghams atmospheric lighting, that includes a downpour, enhances the mood.
Hynes has directed the play with unhurried control, and has assuredly kept tabs on its colloquial unity. Garbed in worn out tail-coated attire that occasionally includes a beaten-up top hat, Buggy makes as fine looking a leprechaun as he does a doleful-eyed, but aesthetically uplifted schoolmaster. Williams, the lover cum Baile- Beag-struck soldier, is convincingly romantic and dashing as the young Romeo. Lynch is spirited and appealing, as the infatuated lass who yearns to understand him.
Costabiles bitter Manus extracts our empathy as he concedes both the loss of his lover and the relinquishing of his opportunity at the British school. Morgan Hallett turns in a fine performance as an almost mute girl. Equally well characterized are Dermot Crowley, as Jimmy, the barns constantly "potted" intellectual; Michael Fitzgerald, as the doltish Doalty and Graeme Malcolm, as the brash British captain. Translations is less a perfect play than a carefully textured poignant portrait of a people who cherished their language and of a country that had no say in its future. The plays dramatic rewards, including its gentle humor, are almost too subtly observed, but nevertheless deserving of the attention of a thoughtful audience.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide