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“Translations” brings linguistic elegance to stage

“Translations” features an extensive set that transports that audience to 1800s Ireland. Photo by John Brady

Matthew Huck

A play rife with poignant linguistic and political messages still relevant 35 years past its first performance, “Translations” confronts serious topics in a gentle and easily enjoyable way. The play, by Irish playwright Brian Friel, focuses on themes such as language, imperialism, domination and resistance. This production of the play is in part a commemoration of Friel, who passed away this past October.

“It’s about the vividness of people, of characters and how they respond to traumatic events in their lives and how they go on in a lot of ways,” said director Professor Lesley Delmenico, Theatre and Dance.

“Translations” features an extensive set that transports that audience to 1800s Ireland. Photo by John Brady
“Translations” features an extensive set that transports that audience to 1800s Ireland. Photo by John Brady

The play takes place in 1833 at a hedge school in the fictional town of Baile Beag, Ireland. The play expounds on the struggle between England and Ireland after the United Irish Rising of 1798 and subsequent English crackdown on Irish independence.

Nolan Boggess ’19, who is making his Grinnell theatre debut, said the play’s theme of language raises up the value of the individual.

“[Translations] sends a very important message of the ability to name things,” Boggess said. “It tells [of] the power to name yourself and the power an individual has to change the world.”

The events of the play take place during the time when England was attempting to impose itself on Ireland following Ireland’s entrance into the fold of Great Britain.

“It’s certainly analogous to things that are playing out now and have ever since 1834 and have long before that,” Delmenico said.

The motifs of economic colonialism and cultural imperialism are strong throughout the play.

“It’s a beautifully written play,” said Vedika Haralalka ’18. “Friel is a genius. There is so much double meaning and so many metaphors [to current events].”

Aside from the linguistic and political commentary of “Translations,” the play is characterized by the depth and complexity of its characters.

Jimmy Jack, played by Ian Saderholm ’14, now a Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for the Theatre & Dance Department, is an older, somewhat “kooky” character but with a depth of loneliness and insecurity pushing and pulling at him from inside.

“Friel writes his characters to be so … alive,” Saderholm said. “Every character has something that they want at all times, every character is fully formed. No matter how long they are on stage … you still have a fully formed character.”

Sara Ashbaugh ’18 said that part of the strength of the play comes from the characters’ connections with the events.

“The play is powerful in the way that it portrays some very emotional events, and it’s that emotional connection to characters that makes the play come alive and makes it a unique experience,” she said.

This production the play is notable for its expansive set piece. From the two-story barn reaching almost to the top of Flanagan Theater to the low, crumbling stone walls to the hanging tree boughs, the scenery merges to create an immersive experience, transporting the audience far from Grinnell to the rural countryside of 19th century Ireland.

“The [play] is sad, it’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s happy, it’s got a little bit of everything but also just enough of everything,” Saderholm said.

“Translations” will run Thursday, Nov. 19, Friday, Nov. 20, and Saturday, Nov. 21, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m. in Flanagan Theatre. Tickets are available for free at the Box Office.

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