Ireland on stage
’Tis March, the season for Irish plays. City Theatre has Irish playwright Brian Friel’s Translations, which not only honors the lyrical language of the Éire, but also uses it to illustrate a powerful political point in Irish history.
The setting is 1833, at a time when change is in the air throughout the Emerald Isle. The British have arrived in a small Gaelic-speaking community in County Donegal to re-culture the area by converting everything Irish to English, including all geographical references such as town, mountain and river names. This is a frozen moment in time, after an unsuccessful Irish rebellion and right before the devastating potato famine.
The play centers in a hedge school, a homegrown night school operated in an old barn by local schoolmaster Hugh (Lew Rooker). The school is preparing to close to make room for English academies and the ragtag students are caught up in their own dramas.
Friel successfully tweaks the essence of language, communication and miscommunication. Not only is there a disconnect between two English-speaking soldiers and the Gaelic-speaking students, but also with a mute woman and her community, and lovers from two different worlds.
Translations is a complex story, made even more challenging by the use of dense language, Gaelic dialect and sign language. Though the energy level lags at times, City Theatre does an admirable job with a complicated play, bringing out memorable performances by the cast, aided by Karyn Garnica’s handsome set.