Brian Friel

Writer
Brian Friel

Male

Born: January 9, 1929
Killyclogher, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

Died: October 2, 2015
Greencastle, County Donegal, Ireland

Obituary: Brian Friel, the Irish playwright who was for decades a leading voice on stages on both sides of the Atlantic, died Oct. 2 in Greencastle, County Donegal, Ireland. He was 86.

Mr. Friel first found success in 1964 with Philadelphia, Here I Come!, a tender, mournful memory play about Gar, a young Irishman looking back with regret, humor and questions over his past years and relationships. The lead character was split into two personas, Gar Public and Gar Private. Like many of the playwright’s works, it was set in the fictional Irish hamlet of Ballybeg.

Philadelphia was a success, establishing the dramatists’ name, and moving to New York, where it received a Tony Award nomination.

Mr. Friel was a constant presence on world stages after that, prolific in his production of plays and rarely experiencing fallow periods. In many ways, he became the leading Irish playwright of his generation. He was also regularly honored. His Dancing at Lughnasa won the Tony Award for Best Play and the NY Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play, as well as an Olivier Award. Aristocrats, another of his better known works, won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play and the Evening Standard Award. When he turned 70, Dublin held a Friel Festival.

Friel’s voice was a quiet, but assured one, one that always concentrated on the frail humanity of his fallible characters. His plays also regularly concerned the flexible nature of language and memory. Faith Healer, one of his most famous and revered works, plays out in long monologues by three characters, the title faith healer, his wife and his manager, who all lived the same experiences, but whose recollections of them do not fall in line.

Translations (1980), set in Ireland in the 1830s, is about the struggle for people to understand one another, expressed through the imperialistic British’s campaign to anglicize Irish place names. The characters speak different languages, and can't comprehend one another, though all the audience hears is English. Translations is a play "about language and only about language," Friel said.

Dancing at Lughnasa, a great critical and commercial success in 1990, was another memory play, again set in Ballybeg, told by a man as he remembered spending a summer with his five unmarried aunts, telling of their frustrations, joys and closeness.

His many other plays included Wonderful Tennessee, Molly Sweeney, The Freedom of the City, The Mundy Scheme, Lovers, The Loves of Cass McGuire, The Gentle Island, Volunteers, Living Quarters, Give Me Your Answer, Do!, The Home Place and several adaptations of the works of Chekhov, Ibsen and Turgenev. Some critics noted a spiritual kinship between his writing and those of Chekhov’s, another playwright who specialized in the quiet existential desperations of everyday people.

He was born Bernard Patrick Friel on January 9, 1929, in Killyclogher, County Tyrone. His father was a primary school teacher and later a councillor on Londonderry Corporation, the name of the the local city council in Derry. His mother, Mary McLoone, was a postmistress. He attended St Columb's College in Derry.

Friel received his BA from St. Pat's College, Maynooth in 1948, which qualified him as a teacher at St. Joseph's Training College in Belfast. He continue on as a teacher—no doubt cultivating his interest in language and people—until 1960, when he left to pursue his dreams of being a writer. He initially wrote short stories, some of which were published in two volumes, "The Saucer of Larks" and "The Gold in the Sea." He also wrote radio plays, as well as articles for the The Irish Press to stay afloat.

He began writing plays in 1960, but did not achieve a sizeable success until Philadelphia, Here I Come!, first performed at the Gaiety.

Friel was best known to the theatre public as a playwright, not a personality. He was not outgoing or bombastic, the sort of artist that uses his fame as a podium. In "Self Portrait," which he wrote in 1972, he said, "I am married, have five children, live in the country, smoke too much, fish a bit, read a lot, worry a lot, get involved in sporadic causes and invariably regret the involvement, and hope that between now and my death I will have acquired a religion, a philosophy, a sense of life that will make the end less frightening than it appears to me at this moment."

New York's Irish Repertory Theatre, which has produced six of Friel's plays, issued the following joint statement from Artistic Director Charlotte Moore and Producing Director Ciaran O'Reilly: "Brian Friel was our hero. He was as generous as he was gifted, and he gave our company life and breath, and golden words. In numerous collaborations over a quarter of a century, we have been honored to stage more of his plays than any other author. Brian was Ireland's greatest playwright and he was our friend."

 

Roles

Playbill Cover - Translations Translations
Jan. 25, 2007 - Mar. 11, 2007
Playwright
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Faith Healer Faith Healer
May 4, 2006 - Aug. 13, 2006
Playwright
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Translations Translations
Mar. 19, 1995 - Apr. 9, 1995
Writer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Philadelphia, Here I Come! Philadelphia, Here I Come!
Sep. 8, 1994 - Oct. 22, 1994
Writer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Wonderful Tennessee Wonderful Tennessee
Oct. 24, 1993 - Oct. 31, 1993
Writer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Dancing at Lughnasa Dancing at Lughnasa
Oct. 24, 1991 - Oct. 25, 1992
Writer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Faith Healer Faith Healer
Apr. 5, 1979 - Apr. 22, 1979
Writer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Freedom of the City The Freedom of the City
Feb. 17, 1974 - Feb. 24, 1974
Writer
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - The Mundy Scheme The Mundy Scheme
Dec. 11, 1969 - Dec. 13, 1969
Writer
(Original)
 
Lovers
Jul. 25, 1968 - Nov. 30, 1968
Writer
(Original)
 
    Writer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Loves of Cass McGuire The Loves of Cass McGuire
Oct. 6, 1966 - Oct. 22, 1966
Writer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Philadelphia, Here I Come! Philadelphia, Here I Come!
Feb. 16, 1966 - Oct. 1, 1966
Writer
(Original)
 
 

Inside the Playbill (5)

See more Who's Who

Awards


Drama Desk Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1996 Outstanding Play Molly Sweeney Nominee
1992 Outstanding New Play Dancing at Lughnasa Nominee

New York Drama Critics' Circle

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1996 Best Foreign Play Molly Sweeney Winner
1992 Best Play Dancing at Lughnasa Winner
1989 Best Foreign Play Aristocrats Winner
1966 Best Play Philadelphia, Here I Come! Nominee

Tony Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1992 Play Dancing at Lughnasa Winner
1969 Play Lovers Nominee
1966 Play Philadelphia, Here I Come! Nominee
 
Name:
Email:
You are submitting a comment about: The page you are currently on: Brian Friel - Broadway Theatre Credits, Photos, Who's Who - Playbill Vault
The website in general
What are you writing about?
Who are you?
Explain your reason for writing to us