by Brittany Crowell

Translations, by the prolific Irish playwright Brian Friel is full of miscommunication and misunderstanding: the misunderstanding of a people and their depth of history by a colonizing empire; the misunderstanding of desires and intentions between people who speak the same language; and the moments in between, where communication and understanding supersede the barriers of language and spoken word.

Set in 1833 Ireland at a hedge-school in Baile Beag  (later renamed Ballybeg by the English), the piece follows the townsfolk as they contend with surveyors from the British Army who have been sent to build maps of the Irish countryside and to anglicize (or “standardize”) the names of Irish towns and landmarks.

The revival production at the Irish Repertory Theater is directed by Doug Hughes and feels particularly ominous at a time when the world is contending more closely than ever with the ideas of cultural erasure and oppressive colonialism. Brian Friel’s piece is a love story to language, praising its depths of meaning while also highlighting its limits: exploring translation beyond spoken word and violence beyond gun shot wounds. 

The students at the hedge-school are composed of a strong ensemble of lovable rascals, including Owen Laheen’s Doalty, Oona Roche’s Bridget, and John Keating as the scholarly drunk, Jimmy Jack.  

Erin Wilhelmi and Owen Campbell; photographed by Carol Rosegg

Then there are those who are struggling in deeper ways: Manus, played softly and tragically by Owen Campbell, is looking for his place within the current society; Sarah, played meekly by Erin Wilhelmi, struggles to communicate in a world full of words; and the head of the hedge-school (and Manus’ father), Hugh (Sean McGinley), is old enough to remember other more physical battles against colonial forces.

Maire, played by Mary Wiseman, is the member of the group who is most seeking something more, planning to leave her township for Brooklyn.  It’s that desire for change that attracts her to the visiting Lieutenant Yolland, performed by an endearingly excitable and honest Raffi Barsoumian, who finds himself endeared to the great depths of Irish history, culture, and namesake, making him question the standardization of something based in Latin, Greek, myth and lore. The British countenance of Rufus Collins’ Captain Lancey plays at odds to the rest of the cast, at times humorous and at others threatening in its calculated and “clear” tones. 

The set, designed by Charlie Cocoran, pays homage to the beautiful green landscapes and gray skies of the Irish countryside and transforms seamlessly from classroom to bar to hillside, amplified by lighting and sound by Michael Gobblieb and Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab respectively.  Costumes by Alejo Vietti also serve to amplify the differences between prodigal son Owen (played by Seth Numrich) from the community he left behind.

I’m grateful to hear that Translations has been extended through the end of the year.  Its messages still ring true on both a personal and a more global level, as it explores how we connect with each other and what we choose to keep and value of myth, legend, history and culture and that which we choose to leave behind.  Don’t miss your opportunity to see it – through December 31 only!



by Brian Friel; directed by Doug Hughes

FEATURING – Raffi Barsoumian (Lieutenant Yolland); Owen Campbell (Manus); Rufus Collins (Captain Lancey); John Keating (Jimmy John); Owen Laheen (Doalty); Seán McGinley (Hugh); Seth Numrich (Owen); Oona Roche (Bridget); Erin Wilhelmi (Sarah); and Mary Wiseman (Maire).

Set design by Charlie Corcoran; costumes by Alejo Viette; lighting by Michael Gottlieb; sound design & original music by Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab; props by Dierdre Brennan; dialect coaching by AAmanda Quaid. Produced by the Irish Reperatory Theater: Charlotte Moore, artistic director; Ciarán O’Reilly, producing director.  Through December 31.