The Home Place is the first full-length play from the venerable Irish dramatist Brian Friel for eight years. It is also one of the old man's masterpieces, bringing together themes that have long slithered through Friel's plays (what is truth? does it matter?).
The Home Place is another of his homages to Chekhov, whom Friel has adapted and been inspired by throughout his career. He has translated Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters, and has written several plays about households filled with sisters and suffused with longing. The latest play is Friel's version of The Cherry Orchard. Like the feckless family of that play, the Gores of Donegal are on their way out; like the trees on their property, scheduled for the axe, they have outlived their usefulness. But, in The Home Place, history, instead of murmuring in the wings, intrudes, black and threatening, on to the playing area.
Between the lacerating dramas of O'Casey and Synge and the gleeful violence of Martin McDonagh, Friel's plays are poignant calls for reflection and tolerance. They sympathise with both master and servant, colonist and native. Enemies are joined in bewilderment at what has happened to their world.
As a character says in Dancing at Lughnasa, "You perform your duties as best you can... and then suddenly, suddenly you realise that hair cracks are appearing everywhere, that control is slipping away." The characters' answer to instability is to have personalities that are also in flux, so varied that narratives weaving back and forth in time are the only way for us to see them. Though Friel's characters endure bare and straitened lives, those lives are also are full of poetry and possibility.
It's a large-hearted approach: in concentrating on the fragile refuges that we make from whatever materials come to hand, where we shelter from reality, Friel has built himself a place in drama that looks as sturdy and as flower-filled as an orchard of cherry trees.
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