Sunday, October 09, 2005

TRANSLATIONS at HSU: For an American Audience

“It is about language and culture,” said Bernadette Cheyne, Professor in the HSU Department of Theatre, Film and Dance, and this production’s director. “It’s about how language defines and signifies culture and cultural identity, when a language becomes threatened, or as in this play, when one language is being replaced by another.”

“I particularly like this play because [playwright] Brian Friel isn’t on a soap box making a statement. He creates a context that raises a lot of questions, and asks you as an audience member to consider all the issues, and what they might mean.”

For Cheyne, directing Translations has been a long quest. “I have wanted to do this play for almost ten years.” In 2001, she traveled in Ireland collecting dialects, including those in the region where Translations takes place. Dialects are one of her specialties as an acting teacher, and audiences will be treated to the lilting sounds of authentic Irish accents in this production.

Though the play is most directly about the relationship of Ireland and England, the impact of its events are felt in today’s America. The younger generation in this play represents the ancestors of many Americans of Irish heritage, including those in Humboldt County. (In the county’s white population, Irish ancestry is the second largest, comprising between 12% and 15% of the total county population and in the Eureka-Arcata area.)

“There have been a number of political Irish plays done here since I’ve been here,” Cheyne said, “and they’ve been well attended and received. There seems to be a large audience out there with Ireland somewhere in their background. There’s a thirst for making the kinds of connections that audiences can make with the Irish plays.”

But all audience members can find resonances as well as entertainment in this tale of a variety of rich characters in an isolated village facing the unknown impositions of a larger world, forced to cooperate in the replacement of their language with another.

“Part of what we are doing with Translations, “director Cheyne said, “is translating it for an American audience.” Among those efforts are special lighting effects to provide a sense of the Irish landscape beyond the hedge school location. “We want to include some subtle references to the outside world, that perhaps audiences in Ireland or England didn’t need.”


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