BWW Review: Politics are Personal in TRANSLATIONS at Studio Theatre
Brian Friel's 1980 play Translations may lack the cohesion and dramatic tension of many other modern Irish dramas, but the unique, no holds-barred exploration of the complexities of cultural and linguistic identity certainly makes it worth a viewing. Set in a hedge school (rustically designed by Debra Booth) in an Irish-speaking village in County Donegal in the mid-1800s, the themes of cultural and geopolitical oppression, conquest, and division are well-grounded in a specific context (and an interesting one at that), but also transcend both time and geography. Communication barriers exist between the Irish speakers and the "foreign" English speakers (some of whom are armed with political agendas), but also between those with a common tongue due to generational or other differences. (The show is performed mostly in English - as originally written - with a smattering of Greek, Latin, and Irish, but it's always clear when there are language barriers at play in the script.)
The themes come across quite clearly in Studio Theatre's production, directed by Matt Torney. Torney, originally from Belfast, is clearly equipped to address the sociocultural, linguistic, and political issues with the care and precision they deserve. Friel doesn't offer any easy, solid answers to the complex issues and situations at play and Torney's production handles his open-ended writing approach very well. Palmer Hefferan's sound design doesn't only add ambience, but it also superbly reinforces the setting and the linguistic themes.
Friel's script is somewhat slow to get going and meandering, but Torney and the cast do their best to keep the audience more or less engaged throughout. Speaking of the cast, there are many very strong performances of Friel's wonderfully rich characters although some prove more memorable than others. For instance, as young Sarah, Megan Graves heartbreakingly sheds some light on other factors that might hinder communication between two individuals. A likeable Molly Carden gives one of the strongest and most natural performances as Irish-speaking Maire - a girl who falls for the English-speaking Lieutenant Yolland (Cary Donaldson). Carden and Donaldson are wholly believable in their roles and, through their performances, the audience can see the pitfalls of the unexpected relationship play out in a compelling and personal way. It's an emotional rollercoaster full of pain and fleeting joy. Martin Giles also gives an impressive comedic yet nuanced performance as Jimmy Jack, an older man with a love affair for all things alcohol and Greek mythology.
A solid production like this is, in sum, worth the effort to see.
Running Time: Two hours and twenty-five minutes, including one intermission.