Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Translations"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark


by Brian Friel
Directed by John Barrett

Produced by Anne Damon and Tara Stepanian
Costume Design by Elizabeth E. Tustian
Set Design by Stephen McGonagle
Lighting Design by Daniel Clawson
Stage Manager Vicki Burnham

Manus...............Grant Evans Wood
Sarah.......................Francine Davis
Jimmy Jack.................Ed Yopchick
Maire...........................Melissa Sine
Doalty..................Brian McNamara
Bridget.....................Kate Mahoney
Hugh................Robert Zawatowski
Owen.........................James Barton
Captain Lancey.......David W. Frank
Lieutenant Yolland.....Bob Williams

I have never been to a country where people spoke anything but English. I acquired a great French accent in high school, but never got out of present-tense, learning so little I took Spanish in college and ended up trying to write essays on Picasso and Dali ... in present tense. But the Vokes Players production of Brian Friel's "Translations" proved to me that unless you know the language, you know nothing. The scene stays a village schoolhouse in Donegal in 1833, where the few poly-aged pupils cannot speak or understand a word of English. Instead they speak Irish --- or Greek --- or Latin! --- because they have a brilliant multilingual teacher whose only weakness is potcheen* (moonshine to you) and perhaps pride. That school, though, is the last brilliant blossom of a vigorous isolated culture --- not because English soldiers are coming but because English, itself, is invading their land.

Of course all the lines of the play are spoken in English, but when the stuffily red-coated commander (David W. Frank) comes to read a proclamation (About new maps, place-names, and possible reductions in taxes) those on both sides the language gap can understand nothing without the help of a local boy (James Barton) back from making his fortune in Dublin, who gives rather free translations on all sides. And when a young lieutenant (Bob Williams) and the local beauty (Melissa Sine) are finally alone together its naught but kissing can communicate what they try to say.

The town must be small to produce such a tiny student body. However it varies from a girl barely able to gasp out the syllables of her own name (Francine Davis) --- though she's bright enough to express herself eloquently in mime --- to a learning-drunk old man (Ed Yopchick) so sotted with his Greek and Latin that when he agrees to marry (to Aphrodite!) it's unclear whether its fantasy or metaphor he's speaking. Brian McNamara's young farmer is trying to memorize the times-tables ("Seven time five is forty-nine!" he's certain) and Kate Mahoney is a girl terrified she can smell the decay of potatoes, though the deadly blight has never yet reached Donegal. The ensemble work here eloquently suggests that even at their various levels of learning, they have known each other all their entire lives.

The schoolmaster (Robert Zawistowski), with 35 years' experience behind him, is dogmatic, peremptory, and short with his pupils, and hoping to "trade-up" when a new regional school ("I hear everyone'll have to go to school from age six to twelve!" someone says) gets built, though he takes a dim view of emphasizing English. In contrast, his quiet, earnest, patient son (Grant Evans Wood), whose good mind and stiff leg making him fit only to teach, despairs of a good enough job in the town to marry his love --- who yearns for English, Dublin, and ultimately that Lieutenant.

Much of Friel's story is told in hints and subtleties and people running in with news from offstage. John Barrett's direction has concentrated on character and interaction, so that people's reactions become as important as what's being said. This is a twilight-time play, bringing eloquently alive a whole way of life that the invading English could never comprehend --- and don't really bother even to try. But, on both sides of the language divide, everyone on stage is vibrantly alive.


*You won't find that spelling in any dictionary, but you should. The Irish (and the Welsh) are magnificently literate peoples, but you'll never know it because they simply cannot SPELL worth "shite"!


"Translations" (26 July - 11 August)
Herford Theatre, Route 20, WAYLAND, MA
1(508) 358-4034

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