Night descended on Dublin as I made my way down to the famous Abbey Theatre, one of the hallmarks of Irish culture and history. It’s the home of many well-known Irish play productions such as, the emblematic Cathleen Ní Houlihan by W. B. Yeats and the infamous Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge. These world-renowned plays were some of the many dramatic works at the center of the Literary Revival, because of the socio-historical worlds that they depict that still pulse with life up to the present day and thus leave an indelible mark on the Irish Literary Cannon. Yet, on Saturday, July 12, when I went to the Abbey Theater, the stage was home to the Aristocrats by Brian Friel (1929 to present). Friel, although not part of the Literary Revival of the 1920’s and 30’s, is at the head of the Revival of the 1970’s and 80’s, along with Seamus Heaney (1939-2013).
The performance of the Aristocrats highlights the historical prevalence of the Big House in Anglo-Irish society. The play deals with a depiction of the life of Ireland’s decadent, rural Roman Catholic aristocracy that is said, in the play, to have declined over the course of four generations. The faltering way of life of the O’Donnell family (in the play) represents: how in a time of dramatic socio-political, economic, and historical change, all social classes were affected by the tumult of the shift from an aristocratic to a capitalist society. The shift of power presented in the Aristocrats is also found in Friel’s play, Translations. Translations deals with the historical event of the Anglicization of Ireland by the British Crown. Anglicization, in the Irish context, refers to the process of England’s colonialist aptitude to rename and reaffirm its possession of Ireland by imposing the English language on the people and the land.
The staging of the Aristocrats was definitely an achievement that follows in the footsteps of the Abbey Theater’s past. To give you a taste of the “remnant” of the theater, before the fire of 1951, I must say that my seat in the Abbey Theater was an accessible three-sided wooden box-seat. My seat recalled to my mind the wooden railing, along the length, of the second floor box seats, where aristocrats and influential individuals would have sat to enjoy performances at the turn of the twentieth century. Sitting in my seat, I could imagine how Yeats once stood up in his box shouting the name of Prime Minister, Charles Steward Parnell, to quail the riots of the Irish Nationalists that were caused by his play, Cathleen Ní Houlihan and the Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge, as mentioned above.
I think that my night at the Abbey Theater was a great one.