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Theater Review: Lincoln Center Festival celebrates Friel at 70

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

Lincoln Center’s Festival 99, the forthcoming edition of the cultural institution’s annual summer celebration, will run from July 6 through July 25, and, from the opening until the closing, much attention will be paid to the career of Donegal-born playwright Brian Friel, on the occasion of his 70th year.

Among the vast array of Festival ’99 attractions will be new productions of three Friel plays, two of them staged by the Gate Theatre Dublin and the third courtesy of the city’s Abbey Theatre.

First to be seen will be the Gate’s celebrated staging of Friel’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s "Uncle Vanya," a sensation of last season’s Dublin Theatre Festival. The Gate will be bringing much of the Dublin cast, headed by Niall Buggy in the title role and John Kavanagh as Astrov, the unhappy country doctor, a character the great Russian writer, it is said, based on himself. The Gate’s "Vanya" opens on July 7, playing through the 18th.

Other notables in the "Vanya" cast will include Donna Dent as Sonya, Susannah Harker as Elena, T.P. McKenna as Serebryako, Eamon Morrissey as Telegin, Daphne Carroll as Marina, and Ann Rowan as Maria.

The director of "Uncle Vanya" and the second Gate offering, Friel’s "Aristocrats," will be Ben Barnes.

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Featured in the "Aristocrats" cast will be Catherine Byrne, most recently seen in New York in the title role of the Roundabout Theatre’s production of Friel’s "Molly Sweeney." The actress’s fellow "Aristocrats" will be Eamon Kelly, Joe Gallagher, Mark Lambert, Frank McCusker, Alison McKenna, William Roberts, Peter Dix and actress Dent, the only performer appearing in both plays from the Gate.

"Aristocrats" will open on July 21 and play its final performance on the Festival’s last day, Sunday, July 25.

The Abbey Theatre’s offering, director Conall Morrison’s new production of an early Friel work, "The Freedom of the City," will play its first Festival 99 performance on July 8, with a schedule that continues through July 18, with a large cast featuring Sorcha Cusack, Michael Colgan and Gerald Crossan in the leading roles.

"Uncle Vanya" and "Aristocrats" will be at the LaGuardia Drama Theater, at Amsterdam Avenue at 65th Street, while "The Freedom of the City" will play at John Jay College Theater, on Tenth Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets.

Another Irish star, the Cork-born Fiona Shaw, will head the list of performers in the world premiere of Robert Wilson’s "The Days Before: Death, Destruction & Detroit III," playing five performances, starting with the Festival’s opening night, July 7, and running through Saturday, July 10, at New York’s State Theater. Shaw’s colleagues, whom Wilson terms "readers," will include Isabella Rossellini, Tony Randall and Jeremy Geidt.

Meanwhile, at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn., at the fourth annual International Festival of Arts and Ideas is paying tribute to playwright Friel with a production of another of his adaptations from the Russians, namely his version of Ivan Turgenev’s "A Month in the Country," serving as a kind of preamble to the Lincoln Center celebration. The director of the Friel production is Michael Attenborough.

"Friel’s Month," along with a production of Shakespeare’s "Troilus and Cressida," has been imported from London’s Royal Shakespeare Company, as part of a 16-day arts festival under the direction of Paul Collard, with a series of lectures, seminars and conferences, mainly on the subject of "War and Peace in the 20th Century."

Among the speakers involved in the New Haven Festival are Tony Kennedy, director of Cooperation Ireland, and Louise Arbour, head of the International Criminal Tribune for the former Yugoslavia. Kennedy’s Irish peace group is based in Belfast, Dublin and New York.

Leading role sin Friel’s version of "A Month in the Country" will be played by, among others, Sara Stewart, Colin Hurley, Janet Whiteside, Elaine Pyke, Sam Graham and Jack Tarlton.

The International Festival of Arts and Ideas began in new Haven on June 18, and will conclude on July 3. The number for information is (203) 498-1212.

For details on Lincoln Center’s Festival 99, call CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500.

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