Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Structure and the Dubliner

(if itʻs 3:20am in the time zone I just left, does that count as my usual insomnia?)

Iʻve become fascinated with the way Friel has structured "Translations." There are four scenes. The first is completely additive: it starts with three characters onstage, then another enters, then more, until finally all 10 characters are together for the only time in the play. The second scene is essentially a two-hander between Owen and Yolland, but single characters keep popping in: Doalty, Manus, Hugh, Maire. The third scene is outdoors, itʻs only Maire and Yolland and only 4 pages long. (This reminds me of Chekhovʻs four-act plays with often one outdoor act). The fourth scene starts with Owen onstage, and is a series of characters coming in and then leaving him: Manus, Doalty, Maire, Sarah, Bridget. We were laughing in rehearsal tonight about how many times heʻs left onstage to comment after someone departs. But noticing this has given me a clue to the turmoil in Owen's character. By the end of the play, he sees his presence as a pivotal aspect of the tragedy at hand. The irony is that he is the one who left Baile Beag for six years to become a Dubliner, and now he is the one stuck in the classroom while everyone else leaves it. In the end, he leaves it as well, and I think that decision to leave is made more powerful by the structure of his "stuckness" since his arrival.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Heading into a break

I'e haven't updated this blog since we started rehearsals on 11/24, and now we are almost headed to a significant break (12/18-12/28) in which the cast will be learning lines and also recovering from a grueling end-of-semester push.

So much has happened. Since we started rehearsals in the Lab School cafetorium, we couldn't focus much on blocking at first, so we did some character exercises I like to do, such as having characters write a letter or journal in first person, writing observations about the hedge school, focusing on character walk and body development. Plus my patented footwarmups.

By Dec. 8 we were able to get into our real playing space, the Lab, and I was finally able to confirm what a perfect configuration the alley is for this show. I knew it in theory, but it's working beautifully in practice. Thanks to scenic co-designer Andrew Varela and T.D. David Gerke, we have a lot of our needed furniture and have now been able to sketch out a lot of the show's blocking.

The best one for me is that in scene 2 Yolland mentions that he will send a crate of oranges that recently arrived from Dublin. I now have it just sitting there in the final scene, after Yolland is probably dead. I think it will make a nice symbol of him, and of course it's orange, the color of the British loyalists in Ireland. By that scene, Sarah will be in her green dress so there will be 2 striking new colors on set, each symbolizing different sides of the conflict. Hm, I feel a bit odd talking about such things publicly before the show, knowing that readers will be audience members later. Not sure how much I want to "give away" at this point about my intentions.

Another crazy idea that I finally got to see Friday night was the clothesline hanging diagonally across entire space, with maps all over it. It's one more way I'm trying to create a border, a divide. And, practically, to get Owen's face up as he looks at the various maps. But it's proving to be a wonderful obstacle for all the characters.

Yet to work in: live violinist, ASL interpreters . . .

I think the break is going to make me incredibly antsy to get going again!

Poster Image by Laura Ruby

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

no name

A few of you know that I'm a fan of U2. This song has been in my head lately, it seems another take on the naming theme of Translations. Bono had this to say about writing it:

“An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making - literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on and what side of that street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name.”
Bono, 1987

Where the Streets Have no Name

I wanna run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls
That hold me inside.
I wanna reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name.

I wanna feel sunlight on my face.
I see the dust-cloud
Disappear without a trace.
I wanna take shelter
From the poison rain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name.

We're still building and burning down love
Burning down love.
And when I go there
I go there with you
(It's all I can do).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sea Change

It all started a few days ago with my noticing that the stage directions mention a creel. When I looked it up, it turned out to either be a "large wicker basket for carrying fish." And it began to slowly dawn on me that these people are not only potato farmers, they are coastal people. They farm AND they fish.

Then two nights ago o I realized that I should look back at the photos I took during my 1999 tour of Ireland. We had spent some time up in County Donegal, exploring some of the islands there and checking out the Donegal Castle. And I began to realize how many of the photos show both ocean and farmland.

And I realized that I'd always visualized this barn as a farmers' barn, with scythes around and other farming implements. But now I realize there's another aspect: creels, fishing nets, etc.

Which led to a meeting today with set designer Melissa Elmore in which we reconceived a previous idea for a backdrop. It had been going to be burlap, but now will be both burlap and fishnet. The brown rusty tones of the burlap, and the bluish aquamarine color of the fishing nets.

Which made me realize that my Hawai'i connection is now richer. The ancient Hawaiians sustained themselves within their ahupua'a, their strip of land which included both farm land and ocean for fishing. From hawaiihistory.org: "Each moku was divided into ahupua`a, narrower wedge-shaped land sections that again ran from the mountains to the sea. The size of the ahupua`a depended on the resources of the area with poorer agricultural regions split into larger ahupua`a to compensate for the relative lack of natural abundance. Each ahupua`a was ruled by an ali`i or local chief and administered by a konohiki."

I remember a similar late-to-dawn realization in Streetcar that the lampshade that Stanley rips off the lamp should be globe-shaped and light-colored, to be the paper moon Blanche sings about. How many times have my eyes passed over that word "creel" without really seeing it? I love the process of SEEING every aspect of this play.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Irish Three Sisters

Geoff Bangs, a Theatre Major who will be playing the role of Doalty, had these observations about the play in comparison to one of Chekhov's major plays, and said I could share them:

"Hey, im reading 'The Three Sisters' by Chekhov right now. If you haven't read it and you have some time i suggest you check it out. I think there are quite a few similarities to Translations. I thought the repeated speaking in Latin, the out of towner that comes in and falls in love with the lead female who in turn falls in love with him, and the fire in Act 3. Also there may be ties with all of their glorifications of Moscow to characters’ in Translations desire to get out and see the world, and the fact that Andrei is a insecure proffessor with an unstable emotional relationship. I haven’t read Act 4 yet. I will do that tomorrow morning and let you know if I have seen any others. But right now I’m seeing so many connections that I believe it could have easily been a source of inspiration to Friel when he wrote the show. Maybe Maire, Sarah, and Bridget are the three sisters!! :D

[about 12 hours pass] I just finished the show, I forgot to point out that along with the many familiarities between Vershinin and Yolland they are both also high ranked people in the army. I discovered they are speaking French not Latin in Three Sisters. Also the Baron was murdered in the end which could relate to what supposedly happened with Yolland. One thing that became very clear was that in both plays the characters spoke frequently of wanting to escape the place they live and the value that knowledge can have in their life and some of their desires to expand their knowledge.

I am attempting to make a connection with the motifs. At the end of Three Sisters Chebutykin says 'What does anything matter, anyways?' which has a different way of expressing itself in Translations because of the different characters and cultures but i did get a sense of 'lets get drunk, history repeats itself, what does all this drama really amount to in the end' kind of vibe from Hugh at the end."

Thanks, Geoff! Very perceptive! Friel is often compared to Chekhov, glad you can see it so well.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Translations Cast

Translations by Brian Friel


MANUS Brad Larson

SARAH Eleanor Svaton

JIMMY JACK Tommy Barron

MAIRE Rikki Jo Hickey

DOALTY Geoff Bangs

BRIDGET Jenn Thomas

HUGH Craig Howes

OWEN Danny Randerson

CAPTAIN LANCEY Adrian Fiala-Clark

Lt. YOLLAND Nathan Garrett

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Translated signs

I had a wonderful meeting yesterday with Jan Fried of KCC and her friend Missy Keast who is a storyteller and has done lots of work with deaf theatre productions. We are moving forward with a plan to have all 5 performances of "Translations" interpreted into American Sign Language. Lots to figure out, grant money to apply for, seating configuration to settle on, etc, but very encouraging to hear their ideas and enthusiasm for the project. And it was fascinating to watch Jan translating my words to Missy from spoken English to ASL, and telling me in English how Missy was replying. It was a thematic enactment of the play!

Jan sees parallels in the play to the historical suppression of deaf culture and language. She also had some great comments about how Hawai'i has a different local ASL dialect, which she tries to preserve in her own signing so that it will not die out.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Friel's diary notes on writing Translations

Friel kept notes during the process of writing Translations. These are excerpts:

15 May 1979
. . . One thing that keeps eluding me: the wholeness, the integrity of that Gaelic past. Maybe because I don't believe in it.

16 May 1979
I can envisage a few scenes: the hedge-school classroom; the love-scene between lovers who have no common language; the actual task of places being named. Nothing more.

22 May 1979
The thought occurred to me that what I was circling around was a political play and the thought panicked me. But it is a political play--how can that be avoided? If it is not political, what is it? Inaccurate history? Social drama?

23 May 1979
I believe that I am reluctant to even name the characters, maybe because the naming-taming process is what the play is about.

29 May 1979
. . . I am now at the point at which the play must be begun and yet all I know about it is this:
I don't want to write a play about Irish peasants being suppressed by English sappers.
I don't want to write a threnody on the death of the Irish language.
I don't want to write a play about land-surveying.
Indeed I don't want to write a play about naming places.
And yet portions of all of these are relevant. Each is part of the atmosphere in which the real play lurks.

5 November 1979
The play, named Translations, completed. . . .All art is a diary of evolution; markings that seemed true of and for their time; adjustments in stance and disposition; opening to what seemed the persistence of the moment. Map-makings.

source: Murray, Christopher, ed. Brian Friel: Essays, Diaries, Interviews: 1964-1999.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sense Images

A list of sense images from Translations. I always compile these, in the hopes that looking at the sensory world of the play will aid me and the designers in creating that world. It's really in a neat chart, but I like how it comes out in a jumble below, more like poetry. In doing it, I noticed how much was broken or bitter.

Sense Sight Sound Smell Touch Taste
Broken implements Gurnts Filthy smoke (Ulysses’ cloak) Wooden posts Pail of water
Soiled towel Nasal sounds Sarah’s flowers chains Bowl of milk
Dusty Music, hornpipe reel The sweet smell Ulysses: filthy hind skin Piece of bread
Shabby, filthy clothes Whistling through teeth “full as a pig” Pub drinks
Ulysses: fair skin, flaxen hair Bridget squeals Washing hands in water Strong tea, black
JJ: bald head Loud Lancey Cold bath whiseky
Flashing-eyed Athene
Black stalks
Blank map Lancey’s screams Hot weather poteen
Black Ridge Music from Chatach house Wet dew Oranges from Dublin
Curly-haired laughter World’s old skin Potatoes
Fiddler, reel, guitar Warm Mediterranean buttermilk
Erosion “something is being eroded” Water in well
White skin Soaking grass, feet
Soft hands
Broken paper bag Whistling through teeth Sweet smell Rain Black tea
Fire Army tents building tears Soda bread
Fresh green land Maire’s invisible map
Hugh and JJ: wet
JJ’s spasm

to mix race

For some other research I'm doing this summer, I've been reading about miscegenation, a horrible word. The context I'm working in concerns the inter-marriage or inter-racial love between blacks and whites in the U.S. There are numerous plays about it in the late 19th and early 20th century. But in reading more about it, I realize that whereas I've only known it as applied to black-white relations, the word applies to all manner of boundary-crossing between all sorts of people (Jews and Christians, Asians and Caucasians, etc.)

Hugh O'Donnell would be proud of me here: the root of the word "miscegenation" is from the from Latin miscere ‘to mix’ + genus ‘race’

Anyway, I realize that to me, it's no big deal in Translations when Yolland and Maire get together, but of course in the world of the play their union is a form of miscegenation, a mixing of Irish and British, probably of Catholic and Protestant (although this play is oddly silent about religious matters). And a directorial challenge is how to convey the enormous significance of their taboo-breaking, for an audience who may not be aware of the chasm between Irish and British culture in this era. Although their II.ii love scene is so innocent and sincere, their miscegenation leads to the murder of Yolland.

JIMMY (to Maire): Do you know the Greek word endogamein? It means to marry within the tribe. And the word exogamein means to marry outside the tribe. And you don't cross those borders casually--both sides get very angry. Now, the problem is this: Is Athene sufficiently mortal or am I sufficiently godlike for the marriage to be acceptable to her people and to my people? You should think about that.

it reminds me of the problem of conveying to today's audience the taboo of a Montague loving a Capulet

Monday, June 30, 2008


from a fascinating article with comments by both Friel and the author of the book Paper Landscape (John Andrews); Andrews's book partly inspired the writing of Friel's Translations.

Writing a historical play may bestow certain advantages but it also imposes particular responsibilities. The apparent advantages are the established historical facts or at least the received historical ideas in which the work is rooted and which gives it its apparent familiarity and accessibility. The concomitant responsibility is to acknowledge those facts or ideas but not to defer to them. Drama is first a fiction, with the authority of fiction. You don't go to Macbeth for history. (p. 124)

(Barry, Kevin, Brian Friel, and John Andrews, "Translations and a Paper Landscape: Between Fiction and History." The Crane Bag 7.2 (1983): 118-124.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

a good knowledge of English

In 1896, English was made the official language of instruction in all schools in Hawai'i.

In 1903, a writer in Paradise of the Pacific wrote this:

"By the end of this century Hawaiian speech will have as little usage as Gaelic or Irish has now . . . The native children in the public and private schools are getting a good knowledge of English, and indeed, it would be doing them an injustice to deny them instruction in English speech."

quote in Shutz, Albert J, The Voices of Eden, Honolulu, U Hawai'i P, 1994, p. 355.

Istanbul, not Constantinople

In meeting with the wonderful artist/scholar Laura Ruby today, we were talking about how the Hawaiians, once exposed to the concept of literacy by the missionaries, set about very quickly to write down their legends, stories, and practices in Hawaiian, and that written Hawaiian became an important means of cultural transmission in the mid-1800s. It wasn't until quite a bit later that English began to supercede Hawaiian.

I found a poem fragment today in an article on Friel:

from "Mise Eire" by Eevan Boland

a new language
is a kind of scar
and heals after a while
into a passable imitation
of what went before.

Outside History. New York: Norton, 1990. 78-79, qtd. in "It's the Same Me, Isn't It?': The Language Question and Brian Friel's Translations". By: Baker, Charles, Midwest Quarterly, Spring 2000 (41.3).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Translations Audition Information

Casting 3-4 Women, 6-7 Men
Translations by Brian Friel
Premiere: 1980, Field Day Theater in Derry

Performances Jan. 21-25. 2009
Earle Ernst Lab Theatre
Director Lurana Donnels O’Malley
Set Designer: Melissa Cozza
Costume Designer: Hannah Schauer
Music Director Sean T.C. O’Malley
Other designers TBA

• Scripts are now available in the Theatre and Dance departmental office for checkout.
• Auditions will be held concurrently with Macbeth auditions, in early September 2008.

The play, by one of Ireland’s most celebrated playwrights, is a meditation on colonialism and language. Set in 1833, it treats the events in the small Irish village of Baile Beag surrounding the arrival of British mapmakers. The Anglicizing of the names of each river, village, and local site foreshadows the loss of the Irish language, and therefore its culture.

This production is indeed a special project to me in many ways. Of Irish heritage myself, I had read Translations many years ago, and was deeply moved by its evocation of a culture on the brink of extinction. In 1991, I moved to Hawai’i, and as I learned about the losses to Hawaiian language and culture due to the forces of Western economic and cultural imperialism, Friel’s play has much to say to today’s Hawai’i.

This is a Page to Stage production, so will have educational materials, as well as lectures by visiting Irish Studies scholar Susan Cannon Harris from Notre Dame, and a panel featuring local experts.

Casting notes:
You CAN be in Little Snow Fox or Macbeth and do Translations.
You CAN’T be in Sumida River (Noh) or Snow Day and do Translations.

Translations Characters
3-4 Women, 6-7 Men

MANUS Oldest son of Hugh, intense. Lame.

SARAH Teenager. Speech defect.

JIMMY JACK Older bachelor. Fluent in Latin and Greek. He never washes.
MAIRE Young woman, strong-bodied

DOALTY Young man, open-hearted, generous, and slightly thick

BRIDGET Young Woman, ready to laugh, vain

HUGH. Older man with residual dignity, shabbily dressed.
NOTE: Possible cross-casting with female actor.

OWEN dressed smartly, charming, city man

CAPTAIN LANCEY Crsip officer

Lt. YOLLAND Young man, shy, awkward

Audition Information

• Actors of all ethnicities (not just Irish!) considered for all roles.
• In keeping with Friel’s convention of using English as the language for all characters, I do not currently plan to employ Irish or British accents for the roles.
• Cast members will meet with the director for one-on-one character development rehearsals during the weekdays in October.
• Full rehearsals will begin Nov. 24.
• NO REHEARSALS Dec. 20-28. Rehearsals will resume Dec. 29.
• More audition information to follow.
Questions? Contact the director at omalley@hawaii.edu

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

translation revelation

I had the chance to meet with Marty Myers's Theatre Management class; they were writing sample press releases, using Translations as their example, so they were interviewing me. They had a lot of good questions to ask about my directorial vision, the history of Ireland, the connection to Hawaii, etc. It made me even more resolved to provide this production with a lot of educational material for audiences, via web, printed guide, program, lectures, etc.

One of the students noted that I am in fact a translator (I translated 2 Russian plays by Catherine the Great from Russian to English several years ago). It amused me greatly that it had never occurred to me that I had that hands-on translation experience.

Some students seemed concerned that an audience might not "get" the convention of some characters speaking Irish, some speaking English. But I think it will all be clear in the acting, I have no concerns there.

We were using the phrase Lost in Translation, that might be a usable catch-phrase for the show, thanks Sofia Coppola.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

thoughts, a million

One of my favorite language observations in Ireland was noticing that when they say "thanks a million," there's a comma between the "thanks" and the "a million."

My mind is abuzz with plans for the play and for all the surrounding events I have in mind. Paul Mitri and I have each been writing grants, and we're hoping to get Susan Cannon Harris from Notre Dame to come out to do two lectures and a pre-show chat. She's a specialist in Irish drama, and knows Friel and the play well. I've also got an amazing panel of experts lined up for a pre-show discussion: Peter Hoffenberg (History), Laura Lyons (English), John Kearns (Classics), and Tammy Hailiopua Baker (Hawaiian Language). Plus I'm seeking funding for an audience guide to the play, with all of the above contributing.

Plus I have a lead on a fiddle player.

Plus I'm working with Jan Fried at KCC to have ASL translation EACH night.

Plus I've asked Jon Osorio to write an opening chant in Hawaiian.

I'm hoping to find a student to choreograph an Irish folk dance at the top of Act II.

thoughts, a million

Friday, February 22, 2008

joie de vivre

For reasons unrelated to Translations, I'm doing some research in the "Negro Units" of the Federal Theatre Projects. In E. Quita Craig's book Black Drama of the Federal Theatre Era, she discusses, among other things, the West Indian influence on black playwriting in the 1930s. And in a discussion of religious expression in the Caribbean, she says "In contrast to Christianity, the entire orientation of these religions is toward joy, gaiety, and the fullest expression of life, and this religious joie de vivre dominates the outlook of the black island populations" (p. 141).

There were 18th century laws in America against slaves gathering to dance.
The missionaries suppressed hula in Hawaii the 19th century.

I'm thinking about the local dance in Baile Beag that Lieutenant Yolland leaves with Maire. I would love the music to convey that sense of joy and the fullest expression of life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

pidgin translation by Ruby at beach

We were on the Leeward side of the island almost to the northwest tip, playing in a tidepool, trying to catch fish in a little handheld net. A little boy ran up to us and said, "I know where you can get planny fish." And my husband Sean and I, who pride ourselves on knowing a good amount of pidgin (Sean's written pidgin-speaking characters in his plays and we have the pidgin dictionary!), looked at him blankly, asking, "What kind of fish?" "Planny fish!" "What kind of fish is that?," we kept asking. Finally, our six-year-old daughter Ruby translated for us. "He means he knows where there are a lot of fish." Thanks, Ruby.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


We were in Ireland in 1999. More on that later. All of the signs in the Republic of Ireland are in both Irish and English (why don't we do this in Hawaii? signs in Hawaiian I mean). But as we got to the west coast and further north, we saw a few signs with the English crossed out:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Dream Come True

After MANY years of wishing to do it, I'm finally going to bring Brian Friel's brilliant and moving play Translations to UHM. Where? Earle Ernst Lab Theatre. When? January 2009. Since the moment I read it, I've always had the feeling that doing the show HERE, in Hawaii, could have the potential to be very powerful, since many of the same issues of colonization and loss of language (and now renaissance of language) apply to both cultures.

Now, to start reading the book that inspired Friel: After Babel, by George Steiner, a non-fiction book about translation.