As he prepares to return to the stage in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Gabriel Byrne took time out recently to remember another playwright who has influenced and inspired him over the years: Irish dramatist Brian Friel.
From Carole Di Tosti at BlogCritics:
The renowned Irish playwright Brian Friel, whose indelible contributions to theater and the social and political fabric of Ireland cannot be measured, left this physical plane October 2 2015. He was 86 years old.
The Irish Repertory Theatre held a memorial celebration at the Manhattan Theatre Club‘s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Monday night [December 7] ahead of Broadway dimming its lights to honor Friel on Tuesday evening. The memorial was a joyous and heartbreaking occasion filled with poignant and humorous tributes from friends and collaborators who were joined by the Irish Consul General in New York, Barbara Jones…
Friel’s amazing gift of language, authentic, memorable characters, and unassailable, human-spiritual themes were and are the “stuff” playwrights dream they can write, but find it damn hard to accomplish at Friel’s high level. Friel distinguished himself as one of the finest playwrights of the modern era and some consider him to be one of the greatest English-language playwrights. He redefined drama in the last 40 years and elevated our expectations of what great theater can be with such works as the Tony Award-winning Dancing at Lughnasa, Faith Healer and the groundbreaking Translations….
One performance highlight included Gabriel Byrne discussing how he saw Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come as a teenager and was mesmerized by the audience laughter, feeling that if a production could evoke such a response, the playwright had to be a great writer. Years later, the irony hit home for Byrne when he imbued themes of that play in his immigration to London from Dublin for an acting gig. The gig was Friel’s Translations. Joining the cast performing the iconic work at the National Theatre, Byrne once again deeply appreciated Friel’s true greatness as a writer.
Performers shared anecdotes about Mr Friel’s skill at turning stories of ordinary life in his fictional Ballybeg into extraordinary tales with universal meaning. They also spoke of his sense of fun, conviviality and acerbic putdowns of over-weening actors and disdain for directing.
Reminiscences of Friel were interspersed with music and readings from his best known plays by performers including Gabriel Byrne, Belfast actor Geraldine Hughes and English actor Jim Dale.
Before reading from Philadelphia Here I Come! Byrne told an audience that when he saw the play as a teenager it was “the first time I went to the theatre and remember being surrounded by people laughing.” The play had a profound effect on the Dubliner.
Seeing Friel’s characters, the insecure Gar Public and the outspoken Gar Private, the teenage Byrne felt “my life was being talked about and in a strange prophetic way.” He, like Gar, left Ireland when he joined the cast of Friel’s Translations at the National Theatre in London.