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Language Is Celebrated in `Translations'

Language Is Celebrated in `Translations'

Language is the heart and soul of "Translations," Irish playwright Brian Friel's richly observant look at the way words can bring people together _ and keep them apart.
It's an extraordinary play, emotionally satisfying and intellectually bracing at the same time. And this splendid Broadway revival, a co-production of Manhattan Theatre Club and the McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey, has been able to tap into both aspects. It expertly recreates what is the most heartbreaking of Friel's many fine dramas, and they include such sturdy works as "Dancing at Lughnasa" and "Faith Healer."
Credit should go most prominently to director Garry Hynes. She has brought together a gifted collection of actors as well as several fine designers (specifically Francis O'Connor and Davy Cunningham), who have given the play a dark, shadow-flecked setting that suggests a world ominously on the brink of change.
We are in rural Ireland, 1833, where a florid principal named Hugh (an expansive, theatrical Niall Buggy) runs what is called "a hedge school." It's an educational academy for the locals, where they are taught, among other things, the classics.
Hugh's lame son, the embittered Manus (David Costabile), serves as his overworked and underappreciated assistant.
The students are a unique group. They include, most prominently, Jimmy Jack, a boozy older man (a delightful Dermot Crowley) with a fondness for spouting Latin and lusting after Greek goddesses. And Maire (Susan Lynch), a spirited lass who yearns for a better life, perhaps in America.
The language they speak is Gaelic, but it is threatened by English _ in the form of a platoon of British soldiers, who have arrived to map the area and Anglicize its names. The army has a translator _ the principal's other son, Owen (Alan Cox) _ and he tries to smooth the way for an accommodation between two very different worlds.
That gap is bridged most completely by Maire and a young British lieutenant (Chandler Williams). In the evening's most dreamily romantic scene, they fall in love under a moonlit sky _ even though they can't understand a word the other is saying. Lynch and Williams are just about perfect in portraying young love in full bloom. Touching and hilarious at the same time. It's one of Friel's most accomplished bits of writing.
The couple's budding relationship, with its inevitable unhappy results, precipitates the play's clash of English-Irish cultures, an antagonism that has persisted down through the years.
Yet behind the gloom _ which also includes hints of the horrific potato famine that will decimate Ireland within the next decade _ there is a cautious celebration of communication.
As Hugh, the teacher, tells Maire, the student, when she expresses a desire to learn English: "I will provide you with the available words and the available grammar. But will that help you to interpret between privacies? I have no idea. But it's all we have."
This revival at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre is the play's third major New York production in the last 25 years. Manhattan Theatre Club presented "Translations" off-Broadway in 1981 for a limited, 48-performance run, and there was a miscast Broadway revival that disappeared quickly in 1995.
Hynes, who runs the Druid Theatre Company in Galway, Ireland, has tapped into something special here. It's similar to what she did with "Druidsynge," her remarkable marathon presentation of all the plays of another Irish master, John Millington Synge, seen last summer in New York.
For both authors, comedy and tragedy exist side by side in the special, very specific worlds they create. These worlds are buoyed by a remarkable poetry _ language full of laughter, love and sorrow. In "Translations," Hynes and company have captured it all.


Updated : 2021-07-31 11:48 GMT+08:00