Director Makes Most of Fine Cast, Tiny Budget in "Translations'

Article excerpt

Byline: Jack Helbig

Brian Friel's 1980 play, "Translations," paints a haunting portrait of an Ireland soon to be ravaged by the potato famine and British cartographers. A strong script doesn't always guarantee a strong production, of course, especially in the off-Loop theater world, but the folks at Seanachai Theatre, a young company barely three years old, have the resources and the wit to stage this fine play in a way that could rival any of the big-budget houses downtown.

Of course Seanachai benefits from the talents of director David Cromer. Last summer Cromer gave us a terrific version of "Angels in America, Parts 1 and 2," on a budget smaller than the phone bills of some theater companies. Now he gives us a beautiful version of "Translations" on a budget that can't be much larger.

As with last summer's production, Cromer has an embarrassment of riches in the acting department. Everyone in this fine cast delivers a performance to be proud of. Janet A. Carr and Coby Goss are particularly affecting as an Irish lass and a British soldier who are strongly attracted to each other, but separated by their lack of a common language. (He speaks only English, she speaks only Gaelic and Latin ... and a little Greek.)

Over the course of this wonderfully wrought production we meet the rural denizens of Baile Beag in County Donegal in late August 1833, and we come to realize what they do not - that they are living on the eve of what will certainly be the destruction of their way of life. Between the British Army, which imposes English names on all the cities, roads and rivers, and clashes with the locals, and the sweet odor of the coming potato blight, the way of life Friel so expertly and movingly describes, and Cromer brilliantly realizes, will soon be gone.

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Ten years ago Frank Rich was the "Butcher of Broadway," the lead theater critic for the powerful New York Times, the one paper with the power of life and death over Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

Then, in 1993, after a 13-year reign, he gave up the beat in favor of becoming a regular op-ed columnist for The Times editorial pages.

All of this would be ancient history if Random House hadn't just published a 1,000-plus-page tome, collecting roughly a quarter of the reviews Rich wrote for the Times between 1980 and 1993. Next week Rich will come to town to speak at the Arts Club of Chicago and (of course) sign copies of his book (which everyone who loves theater should dip into).

Rich's appearance made a great excuse for a short phone interview, highlights of which follow:

Q: Do you miss reviewing?

A: No.

Q: Really?

A: I'd been reviewing theater - and movies - pretty intensely since college. I graduated college in 1971 and landed this job (op-ed columnist) in 1993. That's 22 years. I was the daily film critic for the old New York Post. I was film and TV critic for Time - on top of that 13 years of theater. Much as I loved theater - and still do - the theater review became for me a very limiting form. …