I was sitting in a theatre in Dublin, Ireland October 2, 2015 when the stage manager stepped onto the stage and said, “ I am sorry to tell you all, but the great man and playwright, Brian Friel, has died.” We were all thrown by this and very upset. The Stage Manager then added, “Let us applaud Mr. Friel," and he stepped off the stage. There was a moment of quiet and then a thunder of sound as we applauded to an empty stage, then gave a standing ovation to the empty stage. It was a grand and yet simple gesture of our appreciation to a man who created beautiful, lyrical stories. I am sorry he missed that moment of gratitude and I am sorry he will miss this production of his play as well.
The New York World Premiere of Brian Friel’s The Home Place, directed exquisitely by Charlotte Moore, playing now at the Irish Repertory Theatre on 22nd street, is a must see for all those who love theatre and the importance of language crafted by a master.
The play takes place in 1878 Donegal, Ireland at the home of an open-minded, caring Anglo-Irish landlord, Christopher Gore (John Windsor-Cunningham). The home is occupied by Christopher, his adult son, David (Ed Malone), Margaret (Rachel Pickup) the woman who runs the house and sees to all its needs, and Sally (Andrea Lynn Green), the maid. It opens with the murder of another Anglo landlord by poor and hungry locals who have had enough of English rule, hungry both for food and a better life.
It is also on this day that Christopher’s brother, Dr. Richard Gore (Christopher Randolph), is preparing to do some of his Anthropometry experiments on some of Christopher’s tenants. The experiments include cranial measuring, facial measuring and color detection of hair and eyes. Richard believes these experiments will help to understand and detect social identity. His speech about the darker the hair and eyes the lower on the class rung is dictated by his Anglo beliefs and feelings of superiority over the Irish. It is because of this Anglo view of them that the Irish are fed up and express their feelings through violence.
How timely a play this is about ethnic categorization and social stereotyping in our own climate of deportation and hate.
Mr. Friel has such a wonderful gift for letting a story unravel slowly through conversation and character. He wants us to understand what home means - the land, the soil where we feel most ourselves, most at home. Everything in this absolutely stunning play ties into that need.
There is also a love triangle between Margaret, David and his father, Christopher, both men wanting to run away with her. To take her some place where their class and hers will not be known and so they can start over - on new soil, creating a new home. Everyone in this scrumptiously large cast wants to find a place, but what their true “home place” is, is where their minds are muddled.
The cast, lead by the dynamic John Windsor-Cunningham and splendidly elegant Rachel Pickup, is outstanding. Charlotte Moore’s direction is both tough and musical, and the set design by James Noone economical and yet vast.
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)