by Brian Friel

January 17 – March 20, 1999
The Theatre Building

Manus Kevin Fox
Sarah Karen Tarjan
Jimmy Jack Gary Houston
Maire Janet A. Carr
Doalty Brian Baker
Bridget Ann Noble
Hugh John Dunleavy
Owen Andrew J. Turner
Captain Lancey Lawrence Garner
Lieutenant Yolland Coby Goss
Owen Seán Mahon
Doalty Doug MacKechnie
Bridget Deanna Cooke
Captain Lancey Michael Grant
Hugh/Jimmy Jack Robert Reidy
Manus/Yolland Brian Hamman
Owen Rob Janas
Doalty Joe Roche
Director David Cromer
Scenic Design Joey Wade
Costume Design Thomas K. Kieffer
Lighting Design Charles W. Jolls
Sound Design Albert Carrasco
Properties Ann Noble
Dialect Coach Susan Murray Miller
Graphic Design Roz Francis
Stage Manager Julie Saltzman
Sound Operator Lisa Gordon


From the Chicago Sun-Times
January 18, 1999
By Hedy Weiss

Highly recommended

From his earliest play, “Philadelphia, Here I Come!,” to the widely seen “Dancing at Lughnasa,” the work of master Irish dramatist Brian Friel has revealed two great obsessions. One is the crisis of exile, whether it is literal or spiritual. The other is the soul-warping effects of radical social upheaval and cultural change.

Nowhere are these obsessions explored with more passion or complexity than in “Translations,” first produced in 1980 and now receiving a vibrantly acted, richly intelligent, admirably unsentimental revival by the Seanachaí Theatre Company.

Set in 1833–about 150 years before Graham Reid’s “Remembrance,” the other fine Irish play that opened at the Theatre Building this weekend– “Translations” goes a long way in explaining the ferocious battle that has consumed the English and the Irish for centuries. And it does so in an extraordinarily searching, poetic, intimate way, with all the ambiguity and complexities of human nature in full play. At a time when matters of culture, identity and autonomy have become crucial–whether in the form of disputes over bilingual education in American schools, or the fierce ethnic warfare now raging in the former Yugoslavia– “Translations” goes to the psychic root of the matter rather than dwelling overtly on politics.

In Bally Beg, a Gaelic-speaking farming village in County Donegal where the English have come to exert their control and impose their culture, change is already in the air. New schools, where everything is taught in English, are being opened. Those reluctant to go along will be left behind. Those who try to bridge the cultures will be punished.

“I know I will be outside the tribe even if I learn the language,” says Lieutenant Yolland (the effortlessly dashing Coby Goss), a young Englishman sent to Bally Beg with his Irish-bred colleague, Owen (a fresh, insightful portrayal by Andrew J. Turner), to change the names of the streets and neighborhoods into “the King’s English.” Yolland is a naive and romantic border-crosser; he falls in love with Ireland and with a particular Irish girl, Maire (the radiant, effusive Janet A. Carr). The consequences are tragic.

As Friel well knows, many things are lost in translation, some irrevocably. He also understands that to hold onto the past can be self-destructive. “To remember everything is a form of madness,” says Jimmy Jack (a spirited performance by Gary Houston), the local literary scholar fluent in Latin, Greek and Gaelic. As Maire, who dreams of going to America, pragmatically sees it, “The old language is a barrier to progress.”

David Cromer’s expert casting and astute, high-energy direction serve the play well, as do the actors’ authentic accents. But Cromer might have found a clearer way to establish the work’s tricky linguistic device; although we hear everything in English, we realize some of the characters are speaking Gaelic.

There are superb performances by Kevin Fox as Manus, the young crippled teacher who suffers an agony of displacement and thwarted love; by Karen Tarjan as Sarah, the woman who silently loves him, and by John Dunleavy as Hugh, his literature- and drink-sodden father. Ann Noble and Brian Baker are buoyant, sassy locals, and as Capt. Lancey, Lawrence Garner is the quintessential English colonialist who demands submission at any price.

Joey Wade’s set–full of curves and hills, with an earth floor and a thick, whitewashed mud wall as backdrop–splendidly captures the Irish countryside, with Charles W. Jolls’ lighting creating elemental effects and Thomas K. Kieffer’s costumes a study in aged muslin and linen. Only the blood is unseen.

From the Chicago Tribune
By Richard Christiansen

In his 41-year career as a playwright, Brian Friel has written several beautiful dramas and, with “Translations,” one authentic masterpiece.

The play, now in revival by the Seanachaí Theatre Company, is the perfect vehicle for Friel’s lyric art. It is a play in which language, as a powerful force in shaping the nature of individuals and nations, is the central metaphor, and Friel responded to its possibilities with one of his most moving and lyric works.

It takes place in the territory favored by Friel in his plays, the town of BallyBeg in the north of Ireland. The time is 1833, and at this pivotal moment, the English government has sent out cartographers and a troop of soldiers to map the territory and to rename, in English, towns that for centuries have been known by their old Irish titles.

There is an obvious clash of cultures here, between the imperialist English and the native Irish; but, more than that, Friel sees in this tale of translations, a chance to explore language on many levels, as both a unifying and divisive factor and as both a glorious heritage and a damnable barrier.

He does this in intimate, personal terms, focusing on a schoolroom presided over by a seedy, tippling master of Latin and Greek, but attended by a younger generation eager to get on with the “modern progress” exemplified by the English tongue.

Into this backwater area come the English soldiers, led by a smug, domineering commander, but including a young English officer who becomes giddily transfixed by the beauty and the people he sees around him.

One of the persons he meets is a lively young woman with whom he falls instantly, and tragically, in love. Their tender, tentative courtship, in which they communicate their desire without a mutual, binding language, is one of the most beautiful love scenes in modern literature.

Director David Cromer’s production of the play, for the Seanachaí Theatre Company in The Theatre Building, is correct in intent and high on spirit, and it is graced with a few special portrayals. But, sadly, it misses the crucial music of the play’s language.

Coby Goss and Janet A. Carr are attractive and persuasive as the two lovers, but their delivery has neither the rhythm nor the melody to convey the delicacy and poignance of their courting ritual. Similarly, there’s not a touch of ruined grandeur in the ancient tongue blared out by the decrepit schoolmaster (John Dunleavy).

Nevertheless, there is a fresh, heartfelt spirit in the presentation, handsomely designed on an earthen floor by Joey Wade.

Impassioned portrayals come from Kevin Fox as the schoolmaster’s lame, embittered son; Ann Noble as a fiery young lass in the schoolroom; Gary Houston, as a besotted old tramp, steeped in the classics and pickled in alcohol, and, in a performance that does capture both the music and the spirit of the play, Andrew J. Turner as an Irish lad who returns home as a gentleman translator for the English.

From Gay Chicago Magazine
January 21, 1999
By Jeff Rossen

I sometimes marvel at the fact that we have any cultural diversity left on this steadily shrinking planet of ours. Like the ancient ruins scattered throughout the countries along the Mediterranean Sea, once strong civilizations have been overrun by other forces, destroying one people’s culture for the sake of their own. And in terms of language, we English-speaking countries are among the worst offenders.

Here in America, European immigrants found their identities altered because some admission clerk couldn’t be bothered to figure out how to spell a person’s name.

On the other side of the ocean, the countryside of Ireland endured a similar “simplification” in the early part of the 19th century, as the English forces began a program to change the admittedly difficulty (for those not born of the tongue) Gaelic names of the country’s towns into what makes one almost cringe to call the “Good King’s English.” In Brian Friel’s hypnotic “Translations,” brought to life with passion, lyricism and unbridled beauty by Seanachaí Theatre Company (fittingly, the group’s name is a Gaelic word meaning “storyteller”), the national assault – or salvation, depending on which character you listen to, and the lines aren’t as clearing drawn as one might imagine – is reduced to one microcosmic village and a handful of its people.

Friel has explored the Irish experience in such plays as “The Freedom of the City” and his best-known “Dancing at Lughnasa,” but never has he reached so deep within the country and its people to examine their souls.

A dirt-floored school, where villagers come after a hard day in the fields to learn Latin, Greek and math, is more than a place of learning; it’s a place of dreams. And when one of the village’s own returns, decked out in fine clothes and full pockets, they welcome him with open arms. But he’s not returned for a visit; he’s working as a translator for a team of English soldiers who are traveling the countryside, “translating” the Gaelic names of the towns into English for a new map, one that promises fairer taxation but reeks of doom for the Irish people.

Director David Cromer crafts an extraordinary experience, grandly theatrical in its sweep and achingly poignant in its presentation. The lives of the people of Baile Beag (crudely changed to Bally Beg by the English) resonate with joy and optimism, oblivious to the realities the future holds. The exemplary cast (especially Janet A. Carr’s Maire and Coby Goss, as the radiant village girl and the English soldier who wins her hearty and whose romance sets the stage for the plays chilling denouement; Kevin Fox, as the crippled and heartbroken son of the schoolmaster; Andrew J. Turner, in an intricately woven portrait of the translator caught between two cultures; and Karen Tarjan, in a breathtaking turn as lovelorn mute woman who finds her voice, only to lose it in pain) works with effortless ease and vibrant life under Cromer’s guidance, traversing Joey Wade’s rich setting (brilliantly lit by Charles W. Jolls) and clothed in Thomas K. Kieffer’s stunning authentic dress.

Watching “Translations” made for one of the most glorious evenings I have ever spent in the theatre. Ever. (****)