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Brian Friel Biography

(1929– ), Philadelphia, Here I Come, Freedom of the City, Volunteers, Translations

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Samuel Foote Biography to Furioso

Northern Irish dramatist, born in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, educated in Derry and Belfast; he later became a teacher. His first substantial success was Philadelphia, Here I Come (1964), in which two actors embody the private and public frustrations of a young Irishman about to emigrate to America. This has been followed by many plays, some of them directly concerned with the agonies of Northern Ireland, such as the Freedom of the City (1974), about the shooting by British troops of the decidedly unheroic-civil rights marchers who have inadvertently occupied Derry Town Hall, and Volunteers (1975), about political internees working on an archaeological dig; but others are more indirectly and less obviously so. Translations (1980), widely regarded as his masterpiece, involves nineteenth-century linguistic imperialism, represented by a British army intent on replacing Gaelic place-names with English ones and goaded by the murder of a lovelorn young officer into retributory violence. Friel's more private plays include The Loves of Cass McGuire (1966) and Lovers (1968); Faith Healer (1976), four consecutive monologues describing the wanderings, apotheosis, and death of a modern medicine man clearly meant to represent the creative artist or writer; and Aristocrats (1979) and Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), two plays about family and social fragmentation, one occurring in the 1970s, and the other in the 1930s; Wonderful Tennessee (1993), about a group of dissatisfied Dubliners impotently trying to discover their pagan roots during an overnight trip out of town; and Molly Sweeney (1994), another series of monologues, this time involving a blind woman who feels more content in her darkness than in the sighted world to which she is briefly and disastrously returned. All four of these plays occur in or near Ballybeg, the exemplary Donegal village which Friel invented in the 1960s and where he continues to set much of his work. Overall, this is marked by a gentle scepticism about personal or political pretension, a wry, kindly humour, and a nostalgia for a world unscarred by the dislocation, loss, failure, and disillusion movingly shown in his plays. Friel has also made translations and adaptations, notably of Chekhov's The Three Sisters and Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. In 1980 he co-founded Field Day, a touring theatre company centred on Derry.

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