A Changing Irish Landscape Comes to Life in Translations

By Kenneth Jones
January 25, 2007

Translations, Brian Friel's dense, haunted romance about language, boundaries, political might and personal fascination with new worlds, officially opens on Broadway Jan. 25 in a fresh production by Manhattan Theatre Club.



Times are changing in Baile Beag, Ireland, in 1833. The British are coming — with grand taxation, zoning and Anglicization plans. New maps are being drawn by the English military. The area will soon be re-named Ballybeg, and the native language place-names will become a thing of the past.

Seen through the window of a local rustic "hedge school," with adult students — laborers — expressing hopes and fears of the future (and talking in, and of, Latin and Greek), the play is considered by many to be Friel's masterpiece.

Tony Award winner Garry Hynes (The Beauty Queen of Leenane) directs the staging, which is presented in association with New Jersey's McCarter Theatre, where the production appeared last fall.

"Translations," Hynes told Playbill magazine for the January edition, "is a play about translations in all sorts of ways. Of language, of love, and also about the translation of Gaelic culture to Anglo-Irish culture."

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A quarter century ago, MTC introduced American audiences to Translations Off-Broadway. Previews for this new 2007 production began at MTC's Biltmore Jan. 4.

According to MTC, "Clashing cultures and tragedies of miscommunication unfold in Friel's invented Irish county of Ballybeg, a place he has explored in his plays Dancing at Lughnasa, Aristocrats and Molly Sweeney. Poignant and moving, Translations depicts the power of language to unite and divide people in a time of cultural imperialism." The cast includes Niall Buggy, David Costabile, Alan Cox, Dermot Crowley, Michael FitzGerald, Morgan Hallett, Geraldine Hughes, Susan Lynch, Graeme Malcolm and Chandler Williams.

Niall Buggy and Susan Lynch are appearing with the permission of Actors' Equity Association.

The design team for Translations includes Francis O'Connor (set and costume), Davy Cunningham (lighting), John Leonard (sound) and Sam Jackson (original music).

Joe Dowling directed the 1981 MTC production Off-Broadway. Barnard Hughes was among its players. In 1995, the play made its Broadway debut in a production that ran a month, under Howard Davies' direction. The troupe included Brian Dennehy, Dana Delany, Rufus Sewell, Donal Donnelly, Michael Cumpsty, among others.

Friel was born in Omagh, County Tyrone and now lives in Donegal. In 2005, The Home Place opened at The Gate Theatre in Dublin and subsequently transferred to the Comedy Theatre in London. His other work includes The Enemy Within (1962), Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1964), The Loves of Cass McGuire (1966), Lovers (1967), Crystal and Fox (1968), The Mundy Scheme (1969), The Gentle Island (1971), The Freedom of the City (1973), Volunteers (1975), Living Quarters (1977), Aristocrats (1979), Faith Healer (1979), Three Sisters (after Chekhov - 1981), Father and Sons (after Turgenev - 1987), Making History (1988), Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), The London Vertigo (after Macklin - 1991), Wonderful Tennessee (1993), Molly Sweeney (1994), Give Me Your Answer, Do! (1997), Uncle Vanya (after Chekhov - 1998), The Bear (2002), Afterplay (2002) and Performances (2003).

Hynes founded Druid Theatre Company in 1975 and worked as its artistic director from 1975 to 1991, and from 1995 to date. From 1991 to 1994 she was artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

Single tickets ($86.25-$26.25) are available by calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or at www.telecharge.com or at the Biltmore Theatre box office, 261 West 47th Street.

For more information, visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.