Translations @ Black Mirror Theatre

Translations @ Black Mirror Theatre


Playwright Brian Friel probably could have
chosen almost any moment in the fraught joint histories of Ireland and England and found
something comparable to what happens in his play Translations. He chose 1833, a time when England was securing
its rule of Ireland by, among other things, creating new maps of the land, Anglicizing
place names either by substituting English sounds for Irish sounds or by actually translating
the names into English. This is, then, another of the many moments
in which the Irish are gradually mixing their own culture with the English, either by yielding
to the English or resisting it, sometimes violently. Friel sets his play in an Irish hedge school
in the village of Bally Beg – the name in Irish means simply small town. Hedge schools with instruction in Irish dotted
Ireland but were being replaced by the English national schools, with instruction in the
language of the conqueror. The English gave hedge-schools that name because
their poverty made their construction seem little better shelter than crouching under
a hedge, poverty captured in the jumble of materials in the set by George Compas and
director Madeline Finn in the recent production by the Black Mirror Theatre. Hedge-master Hugh, in his late sixties and
ever well lubricated with the local water of life, teaches Greek and Latin as well as
Irish, and English too. Charles E. Winning endowed him with a slightly
shabby authority befitting his station. His students know Greek and Latin heroes and
divinities as well as anything in their Irish heritage. Jimmy Jack Cassie, though a contemporary of
Hugh’s and fluent in both Greek and Latin, still comes to the school daily to contemplate
marriage to one of the Greek goddesses. Daniel Higgins captured well the character’s
charming eccentricities. Hugh’s son Manus, lame in one leg since infancy,
also teaches in the school, and Joseph Garner displayed his strong determination. We see it in his successful effort to teach
Sarah, a young woman with a severe speech defect, to say her name. She, too, was determined in Janine Norman’s
lovely performance. But Manus’ romantic desires focus on Maire,
a young milkmaid who studies English in the school so she can emigrate to America. She, however, responds not to Manus but to
the English Lieutenant Yolland, attached to the map-making brigade and fascinated by all
things Irish, especially Maire. Carly Uding and Jesse O”Freel made of their
budding romance a touching and lovely scene in which neither speaks the other’s language. Everyone speaks English in Translations, but
playwright Friel, director Finn, Irish language coach Dennis Corcoran, and the entire cast
made clear which language each character was speaking at each moment. William Nolan was a brusque and stern English
Captain Lancey. Maya Kelch’s Bridget and Duncan Phillips’
Doalty, both students in the school, flashed moments of resistance to the occupation. School-master Hugh’s second son Owen, returned
from six years in Dublin and now working as a translator for the English, provided Sean
Michael with a multifaceted, fascinating character, and Michael responded with the richest performance
I have seen from him. Catherine Hopkins designed the period costumes,
Clare Fairbanks the lights, and director Finn surmounted the multiple problems with the
Zack Theatre in creating a splendid production.

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