Esteemed Irish director Garry Hynes, who is directing Ireland’s most
prominent contemporary playwright Brian Friel’s "Translations" at
says, "clearly it’s a story about the last of the Irish language and
the consequences of what happens because Ireland is colonized."
Audience members will also see the relevance this story has to today,
since the tension between Ireland and England has not gone away, and
we are only at the beginnings of what some term the U.S. colonization
of Iraq. Hynes is reluctant to point to any particular relevance but
she does say, "obviously, when one culture is in powerful control over
another culture, there are tensions."
Hynes feels that Friel puts a positive spin on the problem. "What the
play says is that there will always be conflict, but it’s what we do
with it, how we move forward that matters." The dilemma facing the
characters in "Translations" is sparked by the arrival of British
military engineers, who have descended on their rural 19th century
Irish village to map their area and give everything an English place
name. This is the setting and circumstance of the play but as Hynes
says, "it’s finally a story about a group of people in Donegal and
what happens to them. It’s funny and it’s tragic and all the things
Friel, one of Ireland’s most prominent playwrights, is best known in
the United States for his plays "Dancing at Lughnasa" and "Faith
Healer" (which had its second Broadway production last season.) His
father was an educator and school principal; however, his grandparents
were Irish-language-speaking peasants. With "Translations," Friel is
dealing with a theme that runs throughout much of his work but grows
from his own family’s experience. In 1980 Friel founded a theater
company whose mission was "to find a middle ground between the
country’s entrenched positions."
Hynes and I sat and talked in a light rain at a picnic table behind
the McCarter Theater. This setting was chosen so that Hynes could
smoke cigarets to fortify herself for the upcoming rehearsal. I found
her warm and direct, with an honest, no-nonsense demeanor, and
impervious to the drizzle. I guess her short-cropped graying hair
wasn’t a concern.
Director Hynes says she has known Friel for many years but not too
well though she loves his work. "He is a master playwright, an
engaging and direct person, and I am privileged to be doing his work
But it was with a different Irishman’s work that she made her first
mark in the United States, when she directed Mark McDonaugh’s American
debut as a playwright with "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," which
proceeded to win every major award there was to win for the 1997-’98
Broadway season. Hynes also earned one other particular distinction
with that production – as the first woman to win a Tony Award for
directing. For about seven minutes (as Hynes reports it), she held
onto that distinction – until that same evening Julie Taymor won for
directing the musical "The Lion King."
Let’s clarify. Yes, Garry Hynes is a woman. "I’ve had that problem all
my life. I was christened Gearoidin, anglicized as Geraldine." As a
child, her buddies shortened this to Garry. "It’s a nickname that
became my name."
"The Beauty Queen of Leenane" began its theatrical journey at the
Druid Theater Company in Galway, a company founded in 1975 by Hynes
and several of her friends from "university." "It’s what one can do
when one is young and has no responsibilities," says Hynes. There was
no professional theater outside of Dublin at that time. "We wanted to
continue to make theater but didn’t want to leave Galway." She served
as the company’s artistic director from its inception through 1991,
when she became artistic director of the Abbey Theater in Dublin. In
1994, she resumed her post with the Druid Theater Company. "It’s
possible to speak to a national audience because Ireland is not a very
large country, and there’s a great cultural life force to the country
that encourages theater," she says of the theater’s progress. " We
have a great oral tradition of storytelling." By the 1980s the Druid
Theater Company had come to the forefront of Irish theater.
She was born in Ballaghadereen, County Roscommon, the oldest of four
children, two boys and two girls. Her father was "a passionate
teacher," who headed up an education scheme in Galway. Her mother,
Carmel, "a homemaker as they like to say now," is still living. Both
of them, says Hynes, were "hugely supportive of what I wanted to do.
My father just wanted me to get an education and then I could do what
I like with it." Only one other sibling, a brother, Jerome, was drawn
to the artistic life. Until his untimely death last year, he was the
director of the Wexford Opera Festival and deputy of the national Arts
Council. Her sister, Aedhmar, lives in the United States. Hynes
maintains an apartment in Dublin, which she now calls home, though she
is rarely there. "I’m either in Galway or London or over here."
Hynes was educated at St. Louis Convent in Monaghan and at the
Dominican Convent and University College in Galway. "I fell into my
career by complete accident; I don’t think I ever said theater is what
I want to do," she says. At "university" she received a general arts
degree in English and history. But she also by her own admission had
eagerly joined every college organization, including a literary
society, debate club, historical society, and – fortuitously – the
drama society. She was given a choice by the drama group to either act
or direct. "Acting was something I couldn’t conceive of and directing,
well, maybe." The result: "Simply by doing it, I discovered that I
wanted to do it."
Since founding the Druid Company, she hasn’t stopped directing. Early
in the company’s existence, she did write two plays, "Island Protected
by a Bridge of Glass" and "The Pursuit of Pleasure," but she assures
me she isn’t a playwright. She explains that she was "quite simply
writing in response to a need within our company for some new work."
She reiterates, "I’m not a writer." Immediately the new company found
an audience in the Galway area and has since expanded to build a
reputation that led to touring extensively at home and abroad. This
past summer Hynes directed the memorable one-day marathon of
DruidSynge plays in Washington, D.C., and at Lincoln Center.
Once "Translations" opens at the McCarter, Hynes returns to Ireland to
prepare a revival of another play for a national tour, and then back
to the states to prepare "Translations" for its transfer to the
Manhattan Theater Club’s Broadway house, the Biltmore Theater. The
McCarter cast is primarily made up British and Irish actors, two of
whom are making their American stage debut.
According to Hynes, the small number of women directors is about the
same in Ireland as it is here in the States. Fortunately, when she
began her career as a director, she says, "I had no awareness for a
number of years that it was unusual for a woman to be a director –
because to some extent, I could plow my own furrow. I didn’t have to
access that structure of theater and climb to the top. In hindsight I
was very fortunate." Recently the Irish Times called her "the director
of her generation." In 2005 she was given a special Tribute Award for
her contribution to the Irish Theater, and in 2006 she was awarded the
Freedom of the City of Galway.
Enjoying her stay in Princeton, Hynes says, "I enjoy the smallness of
the place and the incredible greenness." The company for
"Translations" is "at home" in Princeton during the rehearsal period
and that, too, she feels makes for a wonderful togetherness that
enriches the work process.
This production is part of a number of events during October that
celebrate the newly acquired Leonard L. Milberg Collection of Irish
Theater at Princeton University. This is a significant collection that
includes a hitherto unpublished play, "The Cooing of Doves," by Sean
O’Casey, as well as more than 1,000 scripts and other theater material
that documents the last 160 years of Irish theater. Hynes joined
Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet and Princeton professor Paul
Muldoon, in whose honor the collection was donated, for a special
discussion about "Translations," at Princeton Public Library on
Tuesday, September 26.
Hynes says she feels that it is wonderful that the Irish theater
material is being brought together. "I don’t have any sense that it
should be in Ireland. The world is global now."
Muldoon agrees: "The great bonus is that it is just that, `a boon or
gift over and above what is normally due,’ but one which will help
begin to secure what will be seen as Princeton’s pre-eminence as a
seat of scholarship in Irish theater." He is excited about the O’Casey
material but adds that he has been "moved by each and every piece I’ve
seen." However, he has a special fondness for the odds and ends, as he
describes them, of the collection, "what librarians classify as
`ephemera’ – the ticket stubs, playbills, and posters."
Muldoon tells me via an E-mail correspondence that he attended the
opening night of "Translations" in Derry in 1980. "It was immediately
obvious that this is a great play, one of the best of the 20th
century." He also feels, as a result of what he has seen of this
current production’s preparation, that this will be the definitive
version of the play.
At some point, Hynes tells me, Friel will come to America to see this
mounting of his play. She hopes he will be pleased.
Translations, through Sunday, October 29, McCarter Theater, 91
University Place. Brian Friel’s drama about a rural 19th century Irish
village directed by Garry Hynes. For ages 12 and up. Opening night is
Friday, October 13. Through October 29. $40 to $53. For ages 12 and
up. Opening night is Friday, October 13. 609-258-2787.