Scientists studying brain function have discovered that what makes a work of art compelling are its mysteries. You’re drawn in as your brain struggles to understand. Scholars say that what makes a great work of art is its transformative power. Brian Friel’s TRANSLATIONS is all that, and more: You are transported, transformed and even transfigured by one extraordinary play.
Bad Habit’s TRANSLATIONS (playing through Aug. 17th) is one of the loveliest productions of the play I’ve seen. Moreover, the Bad Habit production itself is a bit of a miracle. An accident sidelined one of the principal actors on opening weekend and Victor Shopov stepped in, heroically learning the role in three days. The rest of the cast transformed to fit Shopov’s interpretation into theirs—and I’m happy to report that the transition is seamless. Shopov adds an air of elegance to the scholar/elder statesman teaching Greek and Latin to a colorful group of locals at an Irish “hedge” school.
They’re all in for a change because the British army surveyors have arrived to turn their little village (and the whole country) upside down. Place names will be anglicized and borders restructured. The tenant farmer system, too, will be overhauled, explains the stiff, unbending army captain (Bob Mussett at his no nonsense best) through an interpreter (Matthew Barrett as the schoolmaster’s enterprising son, hilariously mistranslating on purpose). Friel brilliantly encapsulates 200 years of English-Irish strife in a sweet, funny, sorrowful story of one little hamlet.
Friel’s ingenious conceit wherein the Brits cannot understand a word that the Irish are speaking (and visa versa) but the audience is able to understand them both (because the play is in English) creates a charming breeding ground for an awkward, captivating romance. Sarah Elizabeth Bedard as the spunky Irish lass and Patrick Varner as the idealistic British engineer capture our hearts as they fumble toward comprehension.
Director M. Bevin O’Gara has a game cast to seize Friel’s words and turn them into flesh and spirit: From Kevin Fennessy’s fantastical old dreamer to Gabriel Graetz’ unhappy, unfulfilled teacher (except with Margaret Clark’s eager, innocent learner), from Gillian Mackay-Smith’s cheery but worried student to Greg Maraio’s handsome, playful bounder: Every performance is folded beautifully into the dynamic ensemble. Don’t deny yourself this experience.