By Brian Friel
Previews Tuesday, December 4, 2012, continues December 6-9
NOTES FROM THE DIRECTOR
How many opportunities there are for us to misunderstand each other! Signals, both verbal and nonverbal, develop in families, in towns, in countries, in small professional groups, in whole linguistic populations. And everything we are is a communication: our breaths, our eyes, the quickening of our skin; each word said, each word not said—all communicate something to the listener who is paying attention, even subconsciously. And the words! Words spoken can enrich communication, suggest nuance; can vivify, specify, elaborate, make ironic, deliver flights of verbal music in magnificent cadence; they can seduce, punish, flatter, obfuscate, serve up an image for our delectation. Words unsaid can torture, suggest, mislead, or leave the door open for hope.
Communication between people, when the sender and receiver engage generously with each other and the message received is the same as the message intended to be sent, is in some ways a small miracle and in any case a glorious event. Cross-cultural and linguistic differences, such as those encountered in Translations, can be as great an obstacle as they are allowed to become. When a powerful desire to communicate and connect surmounts those obstacles, both the sender and the receiver are elevated. The study of someone else’s language honors and sustains that culture and uplifts the learners, broadening and humbling them and opening up new doors of perception. Participation in the systematic slaughter of a language is not unlike collecting every bird of a particular species and cutting out its tongue and its wings—not that fantastic works and achievements have not been accomplished in second languages; but each language has its own music, imagery, encoding; and it communicates the culture of those who speak it with an organic richness not to be matched by a borrowed tongue. As I write this, a pair of cardinals sings in the tree outside my window. Their song is distinct and beautiful, and proclaims their species. How sad it would be if all cardinals were suddenly forced to sing a robin’s song.
Accurate communication is hard enough to ensure when the basic factors are favorable: a shared language, culture, and age; a listener whose goodwill supports the desire for the message to be received. Complicate that with a language barrier and the difficulty increases exponentially. Layer on distrust and disrespect and the chance for anything approaching real communication plummets. And without communication, there is no understanding. Without understanding, there is only misunderstanding. With misunderstanding come arguments that cannot be resolved. And unresolved arguments can escalate to violence, which breeds more violence. And so on. And with each escalation comes more resistance to understanding; the urge to seek a victory edges out the urge to find a solution.
In Translations, we witness language both exalted and debased, both celebrated and under siege. We hear the language of subjugation and the language of love. We see those who try to connect with others, and to help other people connect; we also see those who shun connection or fail in their avid attempts to achieve it. We see the consequences of those failures. And all of this is revealed to us in the glorious words of Brian Friel, whose own sense of language and the fragile yet robust beauty of its cadence and nuance is so highly developed that it is tempting to call him the composer rather than the playwright of this play. We hope you will drink freely of its music and translate it in your own way.