Translations by Brian Friel, directed by Ben Barnes, with Gordon Rand, Philip Riccio, David Storch, Diego Matamoros, Patricia Fagan and Liisa Repo-Martell. Presented by Soulpepper at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Runs to August 14, various Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday (August) and Saturday (July) 2 pm. $30-$49, stu $25, some rush. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The second half of Brian Friel's 1981 play, Translations , must surely rate as one of the bigger letdowns in contemporary theatre. After masterfully setting up a complicated plot, rich in theme, about what happens when British soldiers and surveyors descend on a rural Irish town in 1833 to anglicize its Gaelic names, Friel fails to find a suitable climax or resolution.
The entire play is set in a hedge school, an institution - often located outdoors and hidden by a hedgerow - meant to educate Irish Catholics who couldn't attend Protestant schools.
The school is run by an oft-drunk master named Hugh ( Diego Matamoros ) and his disabled son Manus ( Gordon Rand ), the student body made up of everyone from the near-mute Sarah ( Liisa Repo-Martell , in a touching, almost wordless performance) to Maire ( Patricia Fagan ), Manus's girlfriend, who's set her mind on emigrating to America.
After the British soldiers, aided by Hugh's younger son Owen ( David Storch ), arrive, and one of them, a philosophical sort named Yolland ( Philip Riccio ), falls for Maire, clashes ensue that divide families and countries, hinting at the strife to come.
Ben Barnes , artistic director of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, directs a strong production, beautifully anchored by Francis O'Connor 's solid set and evocatively lit by Kevin Lamotte .
Barnes elicits strong performances from Rand and Storch as the very different brothers and Matamoros as the crafty teacher, but his control falls off in the weaker second half, where too many off-stage occurrences and too many onstage symbolic speeches lessen the play's power.