STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Will love be lost in “Translations”? The latest production at Villanova Theatre finds an English soldier in 1833 Ireland falling in love with the language and a local lass. Can the loves survive as Empire and colony collide? Is the language of the heart universal?
The play was written by Brian Friel, who has been referred to as the Irish Chekhov. The theater wanted to pay homage to him (he died last year) as well as to honor the 100-year anniversary of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising and the quest for independence, according to the press release.
Sean T. Connolly, of East Falls, plays George Yolland, the British officer. Connolly thinks the play is about the loss of culture, language and identity.
“Those things are so central to Irish culture and all culture generally speaking,” he said in an email interview. “When you lose those things, you really lose who you are.”
Yolland never really fit in at home so in Ireland, he sees more possibilities of finding love, especially when he meets Máire, played by Amanda Coffin. Máire’s a strong-willed woman who runs her family farm.
“She’s always looking forward to the future and is desperate to learn more, see more, and do more,” Coffin said in an email interview. “She feels everything strongly — intense love and seething anger — because she cares so much for the people around her.”
Coffin appreciates Máire.
“I relate to her fierce independence and her strength of spirit and body. She also has an impetuous nature that, if I’m honest, is also in me,” she said. “Finding this character has been about deciding what she wants, where she’s going, and who she cares about.”
Coffin, who has been performing most of her life, likes acting, directing, and dramaturgy. Studying for her master’s degree at Villanova has allowed her to pursue all of her interests. She’s loved working on “Translations.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better character or play to be working on or a better group of performers to be working with,” she said.
Connolly, who is acting in his first Villanova Theatre show though he has worked behind the scenes as he works toward his masters in theatre, discovered acting through history. He has worked for five years as a Thomas Jefferson interpreter for the American Historic Theatre and Historic Philadelphia, Inc., among other companies. Those roles helped him discover a deep love of acting, he said, so much so that he co-founded the Manayunk Theatre Company and has been producing shows for several years.
Theater’s important to him because “the world is so bleak sometimes that theater can make people laugh or thing about really big issues,” he said. “Theater used to be a place where political change could happen, although there are shows in Philadelphia that still do that, it doesn’t affect as many people as it used to. But I want to help bring theater back to a point where it can change things, both politically and emotionally.”
For Coffin, who’s from Manchester, New Hampshire, and now lives in Bryn Mawr, theater’s at its best when it reveals life truths to performers and audience members alike.
“Theater allows us to reflect on our own lives as we watch how people onstage react and respond to stimulus that we may also encounter or even provoke,” she said. “Theater asks us hard questions about ourselves and how we interact with others, and it can present or bring to light social issues.”
In all shows, and especially in “Translations,” she hopes that people experience real emotion – those coming from the actors and those coming from within.
“Theater should poke and prod, insight and riot, challenge and question,” she said, “even as it makes us feel deeply.”