Throughout history, many great societies have been known for their language as much as by their accomplishments. "Translations," a play by Brian Friel showing at KU's University Theatre, examines the importance of language as a method of constructing identity, as well as a means of communication.
The story revolves around a hedge school in Ireland in the early 1800s. England has sent soldiers to map the area, and they don't speak Gaelic, the tongue of Ireland at the time.
A young man originally from the town comes with the army to translate for the soldiers. His return, however, brings with it conflicts of ideals between the provincial townsfolk and the foreign militia.
Immediately, the accuracy of the dialect grabs the attention of the audience. With the assistance of diction coach Paul Meier, the entire cast soundly grasps the thick Irish accent - so much so that a bulk of the dialogue slips right by. However, one finds that this confusion is actually an integral element to the telling of the story.
Friel, born in Ireland in the early 20th century, creates a show in which the story is narrated more by human interaction than by scripted words. One doesn't need to harness every syllable to capture the story - it exists because feelings of love, confusion, frustration and fear are basic motivators in human life. In fact, focusing too much on the scripted words is missing the point of the play.
Kip Niven, a KU alumnus and guest actor to the University Theatre, is a strong leader to this sound cast of young thespians. As Hugh, the less-than-sober schoolmaster, he provides a solid stage presence that illuminates the important points of the story through the fog that is the intended language barrier.
Carter Waite and Jonathan Matteson play the sons of the schoolmaster, Manus and Owen. The actors, whose characters inspire much of the action in the play, display a keen understanding of the complexity that is the relationship between brothers.
Maire, one of the Irish students, and Lt. Yolland, an English soldier who falls in love with the town and young Maire, display the epitome of innocent love. Played by Hilary Kelman and Erik LaPointe, neither member of the couple speaks the other's language, yet the pair succeeds in creating a genuine connection based solely on their infatuation with one other.
Courtney Schweitzer and Brian Ervin are Bridget and Doalty, the jesters of the class. Their effervescence is a welcome comic relief to the darker aspects of the show. Listening to them speak is akin to watching an operatic aria - one need not understand the words to appreciate the song.
Director Doug Weaver has fashioned a performance that is exquisite in its complexity, yet defined by its simplicity. The cadence of the show, matched with the pure emotion from the actors, tells a story universal to the human experience.