Villanova Theatre Logo

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Universal in TRANSLATIONS: A Dramaturg's Perspective

Graduate Student, Elise D'Avella, has been hard at work this year. She's closing up the year by completing her thesis, directing Sarah Kane's CRAVE, and dramaturging our upcoming production of TRANSLATIONS. Elise was kind enough to share her thoughts on her process this year, and how Friel's play drenched in Irish history has stolen her heart. Check out Elise' blog post below and learn more about Friel's play, Translations, transporting audiences to Ireland starting next week. 

I’ve taken on many different roles at Villanova this year. I stage managed the mythical production of Eurydice, got into the body of a witch in Macbeth, I am directing the daunting Sarah Kane’s Crave for my directing thesis, and now I am dramaturging the upcoming production of Brian Friel’s Translations. By taking on all of these varying roles I’ve discovered that through the experience of each, you develop a unique type of ownership, a love, a connection to each production:

As a stage manager, I developed a maternal love for Eurydice, supporting the production as it grows into its full potential and being there to catch it when it falls. As an actor, the love is more selfish. Macbeth is clearly witch 3’s story, I don’t care what anybody says. Which of course is ridiculous, but completely necessary. It is your responsibility as an actor to go to bat for your character even if you’re the only one on their side. As a director, you fall in love with the story. Is the production visually, aurally, emotionally telling this story as meaningfully as it can? You fawn over every little detail, down to the positioning of an actor’s foot at any given moment. Finally, as a dramaturg, you develop a love for the playwright, the text, and the core of what gives the play its staying power.

I could not have asked for a more beautiful play to fall in love with during my first dramaturgical experience. In researching Translations, I have discovered that almost every line has at least one layer of meaning underneath of it, and yet, Brian Friel is so skilled at his craft that you do not see the layers of work, you only feel them. I was blown away when I found out that he thought this play would never succeed. He said in an interview, “Nowadays, to write a three-act naturalistic play set in the 19th century in the Gaeltacht is a recipe for some kind of instant death, so its success astonished me.” In a way, he has a point. This play is extremely specific and at face value doesn’t seem like it will relate to a universal audience, but somehow it does.

I have been fascinated throughout this rehearsal process- constantly trying to figure out what exactly is it about this play? How does it bring someone like myself, who knew next to nothing about Irish history, to tears every time?

Time and time again, it comes back to what Friel had said about his play, although the politics in the piece are unavoidable, Translations is solely about language. It is about what connects us as humans; are words the sole means of communication or is there a language that exists without words? Translations also engages with the inevitability of change and transition. As history teaches us, empires are destined to fall, and it is only those who can adapt that survive. Friel was concerned with what is lost in these moments of transition. Is it possible to hold onto a cultural identity across all borders or is it doomed to be lost in translation?

The English language is now Ireland’s language, and yet, it’s not. In Friel’s opinion, Ireland has yet to learn to absorb English, and it was his mission as a playwright to rediscover the Irish identity within the English language. For this reason, Translations was very close to his heart.

He described writing Translations as a form of Pietas, a sense of loyalty or dutifulness to one’s home. This sense of loyalty is something that can be universally related to, and may be the key to why,Translations continues to inspire and communicate with us today. 

-Elise D'Avella

Villanova Theatre's production of Translations runs April 12-24. Get your tickets at or call us at 610-519-7474.