BWW Reviews: Let's Talk About Language with Bad Habit Productions' TRANSLATIONS
I am very lucky in that I've always been able to express myself through words fairly easily. I have rarely struggled to find the right expression or declaration, and never experienced much of a language barrier (other than a short and overwhelming Roman vacation in college). I can put my fingers to a keyboard and pour out exactly what I am thinking with little hesitation. And I am remarkably aware of the privilege and luck that comes with that ease. Last night, I attended Bad Habit Productions's most recent presentation, Translations by Brian Friel, which deals intimately with the power of and connection to language and how challenging and heartbreaking it can be when you are deprived of that. For the evening, I was torn from my comfortable understanding of words and forced to examine a world in which that ease does not exist.
Translations, directed by M. Bevin O'Gara, takes place in 1833 rural Ireland, with most of the action occurring in a school whose adult students often discuss incorporating English into their studies and other methods of furthering themselves in a constantly changing world. Soon, British soldiers come on the scene with the intention of remapping the country, anglicizing the Gaelic city names, and more or less attempting to wipe out the Gaelic language entirely. The piece has humor, sadness, and passion, and uses cultural imperialism to make important comments on human beings' connection to language and conversation.
The piece is strongly intellectual (as any piece about language must be) and although at times I found it a bit wordy or dragging, for the most part, I found the play to be very beautiful. Not only is the writing lovely, but so were this production's aesthetics. The set, designed by Megan Kinneen, was a deconstructed farmhouse, with rope and farm equipment lining the walls and well worn wooden chairs and floors. The scene was further set, and the piece's topic further emphasized, by piles of well loved books and dictionaries stacked about the room.The lights, designed by PJ Strachman, were surprisingly colorful, splashing deep hues of blue and green upon the walls. The action was contained within this little piece of Ireland, which spilled out and slowly transitioned into the black box theatre in which the production was held. Costumes, by Emily Woods Hogue, were realistic and worn, beautifully depicting these hard working 19th century Irish peasants, and harshly juxtaposing the tailored and polished white uniforms of the British soldiers. There was certainly a transformation of both actor and space.
The talented ensemble did their part in transporting the audience to 1800s Ireland too, especially with their impressive dialect work (coached by Nina Zandejas). Their speech was so effective that I had no problem believing they were all Irish born and even had to concentrate harder than usual to really grasp what their heavily accented voices were saying. Stand outs for me were Patrick Varner as earnest, energetic, impressively British Lt. Yolland and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard as eager, ambitious farm girl Marie; the two of whom fell in love almost instantly and shared an adorable, wildly amusing, high energy scene where they tried desperately to communicate with one another and, even without a shared language, somehow managed to connect. I also enjoyed Gabriel Graetz, as a flustered and determined Manus, and Margaret Clark, as a beautifully present, mute Sarah (yes, Mr. Friel, we get the metaphor).
I have my own qualms about the set-up of the piece, which can get a bit confusing at moments. The show is about a language barrier, but the entire script is in English. It's certainly an interesting way to illustrate that struggle, with the audience being privy to what both sides are saying, but the actors having the sole responsibility of expressing the frustration of not understanding. It's not like it took me ages to figure out, but some scenes were certainly more confusing than others. That being said, this is just my own opinion of the writing, not a commentary on anything directorial or performance based.
Overall, I found this to be a really lovely, charming piece that tackled some interesting issues that many of us are privileged enough not to experience in day to day life. I am a fan of O'Gara's work in general, and she certainly maintained her usual caliber of honest, beautiful, realism based theatre with this production. Honestly, the topic and style of the piece are not ones to which I am usually drawn, but I would recommend attending one of the final performances, particularly if you are interested in history or literary based work. This play has a lot to say.Directed by M. Bevin O'Gara; Stage Managed by Katie Humbert; Costume Design by Emily Woods Hogue; Dialect Coaching by Nina Zendejas; Lighting Design by PJ Strachman; Props Design by Kristin Myers; Scenic Design by Megan Kinneen; Sound Design by Andrew Duncan Will; Technical Direction by Daniel Walsh. Featuring Matthew Barrett, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Margaret Clark, Stephen Cooper, Kevin Fennessy, Gabriel Graetz, Gillian Mackay-Smith, Greg Maraio, Bob Mussett, and Patrick Varner Translations, by Brian Friel, plays through August 17th at the Roberts Theatre at the Calderwood Pavillion at the BCA. For more information about Bad Habit Productions or for tickets, visit badhabitproductions.org.