Esteemed Irish director Garry Hynes, who is directing Ireland’s most

prominent contemporary playwright Brian Friel’s "Translations" at

McCarter Theater,

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

life is."

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

here."

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.

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