EmptyBrian Friel's drama about cultural clashes and the divisive effect of language receives a timely revival courtesy of the Manhattan Theatre Club, which presented the work's American premiere in 1981. Irish director Garry Hynes ("The Beauty Queen of Leenane") has delivered a beautifully staged and acted production that goes a long way toward overcoming the play's dense verbiage and rambling narrative.
Set in 1833 in Friel's oft-used fictional town of Ballybeg, Ireland, the play deals with the complications that ensue when a pair of British soldiers arrive to map the area and transform the original Gaelic place names into English. Complicating the proceedings is the fact that one of them, Lt. Yolland (Chandler Williams), becomes enthralled with the beauty of the countryside and with one of the residents, Maire (Susan Lynch), in particular. Unfortunately, she already is engaged to Manus (David Costabile), the son of the town's head schoolmaster (Niall Buggy), whose other son, Owen (Alan Cox), is serving as a translator for the British visitors.
Yolland and Maire's tentative courtship provides the play with its heart, most notably in a gorgeously written scene in which the pair manages to make clear their love for each other even while barely understanding a word that the other says.
Friel's depiction of the troubled interactions between the British interlopers and the townspeople has many amusing moments, but an overall air of pathos permeates the proceedings as the townspeople come to realize that the language that defines them is being stripped away.
The ensemble cast (which in-cludes Geraldine Hughes, recently in "Rocky Balboa") performs the roles with a wonderful feeling for the period and the language, never succumbing to the temptation to overplay for cheap effects.