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April 15, 2010

What’s in a word? More than you think, Friels’ ‘Translations’ shows

The School Of Drama presents Brian Friel’s Translations, a play about language as a nation fights to protect its culture and its people. The production begins previews Sunday April 18 and runs through May 2 at the Penthouse Theatre. Directed by MFA Directing Candidate Paula Bennett, the play features members of the Professional Actor Training Program and the Seattle community.


Set in rural Ireland in 1833, Translations explores the troubled lives of the people of Baile Beag, a small community struggling to find its voice amidst a country being forced to change its national identity. Ireland has been under Britain’s direct rule since the failed rebellion of 1798. When a group of British soldiers arrives to remap the region, they attempt to translate Gaelic place names into proper English. Tragic misunderstandings occur in this funny and poignant drama, where linguistic clashes speak of the dangerous political tension between the two countries.


In Translations, Friel not only celebrates the beauty of human speech, but also investigates its darker side. The inhabitants of Baile Beag quickly learn that language as an instrument of nationalism can divide as easily as it unites, and is often inadequate at expressing humanity’s deepest, most raw feelings: love and hate. At its core, Translations is a simple story about the difficulty of finding a home, someone to share it with, and the words to describe it.


Director Paula Bennett says that although the actual events of the play are tragic, “when I see this play, read this play, I am filled with exhilaration, a rippling excitement.”


Seamus Deane, the Irish poet and friend of Brian Friel, writes, “The fact that the play has been written is itself an indication of the success of the imagination in dealing with everything that seems opposed to its survival.”


For Bennett, “watching Translations brings us a moment of communion, of recognition, which even in these times of war makes it possible for us to really speak the same language. It is an invitation to understand the forces that shape us and then take responsibility for the future. I find this inspirational.”


After performances on Friday, April 23 and Wednesday April 28, a short discussion will be held regarding classical tongues in today’s world with UW Professor Stephen E. Hinds, acting chair of the UW Classical Studies Department and Liam O. Baoighill, local language instructor and regular participant in World Languages Day at the UW.


Brian Friel, playwright, is one of Ireland’s best-known dramatists. Throughout his career, Friel has published many short stories, radio plays, and screenplays concerning the political realities of the two Irelands, as in The Freedom of the City (1973) and Living Quarters (1977). In 1980, he founded the Field Day Theater Company of Northern Ireland with Stephen Rea. Friel’s work examines the hopes and disappointments of the Irish people as they play themselves out against a menacing undercurrent of violence. Friel has also written of Irish family life, skillfully mingling it with the surreal, in such plays as the internationally known Dancing at Lughnasa (1990; Tony Award). To commemorate his 80th birthday in 2009, Irish Theatre International published a special issue with seven articles devoted to the playwright.


Paula Bennett, director, Translations, is an MFA Directing Candidate at the UW. During the 2008-09 year she directed The Love Talker, and The American Century. Before attending the UW, Bennett was a directing intern at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre where she directed Am I Blue for the Milwaukee Rep Intern Lab. Prior to Milwaukee Rep, Bennett founded a fringe theatre company called Contact Theatre Seattle. Her past directing credits include: The Gift, Riders to the Sea, The Marlboro Man, and The Nazi Nearest You at Contact Theatre. Bennett received theatrical training at Freehold Studio Theatre in Seattle and the Actor’s Workshop in Dublin, Ireland.


Tickets are $10 at previews, $15 Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and $17 for Friday and Saturday. All students pay $10, UW employees, UWAA members and seniors pay $13. All evening performances begin at 7:30 and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. The UW Arts Ticket Office is at 4001 University Way NE and is open Monday-Friday, 11a.m.-6 p.m. Further information is available online at: www.drama.washington.edu.