Gabriel Graetz is wonderful as Manus, a teacher at his father Hugh's hedge school (where much of the play's action takes place); I saw Graetz earlier this year as Yepikhodov in The Cherry Orchard (Actors' Shakespeare Project) and was pleased to see his greater performance range in more of a leading role here. Manus struggles to manage his oft-drunk father and his love interest Maire (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard), who urges him to seek better opportunities and a better life (yet Manus resists, fearing opposition from his father). Graetz skillfully embodies Manus' stifled energy and tense demeanor without himself being stifled and tense, and his Irish accent is spot on (as are all the accents in the show, so kudos to dialect coach Nina Zendejas).
Patrick Varner plays British Lieutenant Yolland, and he perfectly captures Yolland's bright-eyed romanticism and clumsy yet endearing disposition, becoming enchanted with the landscape and people of Ireland and, as a result, falling in love with Maire. You'll laugh at Yolland, but Varner will also make you like him: the earnest of his performance reveals Yolland's good, if somewhat idyllic, heart, and he and Bedard are quite charming together as their characters stumble to communicate their feelings without a common language (one funny scene in particular is a bit "Tarzan and Jane" as they resort to over-enunciation and lots of pointing). Varner trained at Boston University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, and recent performance credits include Brundibar, and But, the Giraffe (Underground Railway), The Comedy of Errors (Anthem Theatre Co.), and Hamlet (LAMDA). Bedard holds an MFA in acting from Brandeis University, and previous credits include Arcadia (Bad Habit Productions), A View from the Bridge, and Orestes. She plays Maire with fiery passion and emotion which escalates to near hysteria toward the end of the play (for reasons I won't reveal hereyou'll just have to see it). Bob Mussett (Whistler in the Dark's Far Away, Zeitgeist Stage's Neighbourhood Watch, among other local credits) is very British as Captain Lancey: brisk, upright, and stern, turning fearsome by the end of the play. Really, the entire ensemble is strong.
Finally, a nod to the design: the work of a play's designers is often done best best when it's hardly noticed at all, as their job is to seamlessly transform the performance space into the world of the play. Megan Kinneen, PJ Statchman, and Andrew Duncan Will (the production's scenic, lighting, and sound designers, respectively) accomplish just that. In particular, listen for the low, whistling wind in the background, and you'll wonder if it's the storm outside or the tension unfolding onstage that makes you shiver.
Translations runs through August 17th, 2014, at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, 527 Tremont Street, Boston. Tickets are $18 in advance and $25 on the day of the show. For tickets and information, call 617-933-8600 or visit badhabitproductions.org/. The company also features a concurrently running family series.
Casting and performance schedule note: due to an actor injury, the character of Hugh (portrayed by Stephen Cooper in the performance reviewed here) will be played by Victor Shopov for the remainder of the run, which resumes on Friday, August 8th.