An introduction to Brian Friel

Irish playwright Brian Friel. (Photo by Bobby Hanvey).

Dancing at Lughnasa is often referred to as Brian Friel’s masterpiece. Which is great — everyone should have a piece of work that’s their crowning achievement. But who is Brian Friel, and why are we so excited about his masterpiece? First off, you might be familiar with Friel’s other work — he was the adaptor of Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, which EmStage produced this past February. Friel is often called the “Irish Chekhov” for his sparse dialogue and dry wit; his English-language translations of Chekhov are considered among the best. But, the playwright is also widely lauded for his original work: so much so, in fact, that in 2006, Friel was named Saoi of Aosdána — one of the highest honors Ireland can bestow on a native son, and one he shares with playwrights like Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. 

Friel is notorious for speaking little about his personal life, and even less about his internal life, but this profile from a series on Irish theatre provides a pretty comprehensive look at the Friel that we do know.  

And to learn more about him, you’ll just have to come check out Dancing at Lughnasa — the play that is considered Friel’s best, as well as his most autobiographical. 

Middletown Gazette: local mystery solved!

This morning, we received another delivery from the Middletown Gazette! Read all about the local mystery, recently solved.

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Missing Library Book…Returned!

There’s been something causing quite a stir at the Middletown Public Library this week. One of the most treasured books of the entire collection, Middletown: A Collective History had gone missing! The report came in on Tuesday evening when our local Librarian was resolving the nonfiction treasuries and noticed that something was amiss.

“Well, when I realized that there was a large gap in the Dewey Decimal numbers, I was quite puzzled. But when I checked the cart, I found that Middletown’s beloved history book was gone!”

Shocked and terrified of an alleged booknapper, she immediately called upon local Middletown law enforcement to recover the missing item.

“Happens all the time in Middletown,” said a Cop who appeared on the scene. “People think they can just go around staring at the stars, planting trees, stealing library books…”

Middletown residents were just as disturbed as the Librarian. Town newcomer Mrs. Mary Swanson was looking to borrow the book, but was saddened to find that it was gone. “I was really looking forward to know a bit more about Middletown. We just moved here, my husband and I.. we’re trying to start a family, and I want our baby to know all about the place he lives.” Mr. John Dodge, Mrs. Swanson’s neighbor, looked over at nothing in particular while she gave the impassioned speech.

A local Tour Guide quipped on the missing book “I don’t know what we’ll do without it! That’s basically the manual for everyone who gives walking tours here in town. It’s like someone tried to destroy Middletown’s history. How else will everyone know all about the Monument in the middle of the town square? I mean, other than the fact that the plaque on it is in English… so it can be read forever… But you know what I mean.”

The book was miraculously found recovered less than three hours after it was scheduled to return to the library, with the town Mechanic as the prime suspect in the case.

“I wasn’t surprised when I found this one lying out on a bench with the book. He’ll pay his dues to the town for this, no doubt.” The Cop who found the local man said as he put him in handcuffs. “We’re taking him down to the station for questioning. Stealing a book… I should have expected this.”

Muffled cries from the Mechanic could be heard as he was directed into the police vehicle. No word on if these matched the strange sounds residents have been hearing outside their homes in the past few weeks.

“Well, I’m just overjoyed to have it back. It’s like everything is right in the world. Middletown is a great place to live, and this book will let us remember so we will never forget!” The Librarian said as she sniffed the pages of the now returned item. “See, this is why overdue library books are never a good idea!”

Frequently Asked Audition Questions

We regularly run a list of Frequently Asked Questions with Emerson Stage’s audition calls. We figured it was a good idea to list your most frequently frequent asked questions here, for fastest reference.

I am at the Castle / in LA / studying abroad this semester. Can I still participate?
YES! It is our standard practice to accept video audition submissions from students studying abroad this semester who wish to be considered for next semester’s productions. Please contact for further, show-specific details about how to submit a video audition.

Why do you ask for my schedule and conflicts? At auditions, we ask for your class schedule, work/job commitments and any other things that may affect your availability during the rehearsal period of a show in order to see if we can consider you for a role. Your presence at rehearsal is essential.

What constitutes a conflict? A conflict is anything that affects your schedule during our rehearsal hours of Monday-Friday from 7-11pm and Saturdays and Sundays. We don’t rehearse seven days per week unless we are in technical rehearsals heading into performances, but it is essential to know what your schedule is going to be during rehearsal hours. A conflict may include classes, a job, another show you are in, a family obligation (weddings, anniversaries, celebrations), volunteering.

If I list my conflicts will I not be cast? No — everyone, especially students, is going to have scheduling pressures. It is unreasonable to think that you would be available 24 hours a day, seven days per week for show rehearsals. Full disclosure on your schedule helps us figure out how to cast you and how to schedule rehearsals for a show. That is why we ask at auditions. If you have too many conflicts, however, it simply may not be possible to cast you based on your availability. If you can attend few rehearsals and not every performance, it is not possible to consider you for a role.

I know I have conflicts but I am afraid to list them because I really want to be in this show (or want a particular part); if I list my conflicts I am afraid I won’t be cast, so I just won’t list them, okay? No, not okay at all. This mind-set has serious implications for your fellow actors in this show and your future ability to be cast in any other shows. This is a bad practice that can have severe professional implications in your life ahead in the theater. It is required that you list all conflicts at auditions.

What if new conflicts arise after I have auditioned and been cast? Before you accept or agree to any new conflict, you must contact stage management, who will consult with the director. In general, it will be very difficult to allow you to accept a commitment that affects your ability to rehearse and perform in a show, so it is very possible that we will not be able to allow you to take on more schedule-affecting commitments.

Other questions? Send them to And otherwise: Break a leg!

Fefu and Her Friends dramaturgy open discussion thread

The dramaturgy mannequin for Fefu and Her Friends, on display in the Iwasaki Library

The dramaturgy mannequin for Fefu and Her Friends, on display in the Iwasaki Library

Hello! You may have noticed this mannequin on display in the Iwasaki Library this week. It’s part of the dramaturgy for Emerson Stage’s production of Fefu and Her Friends, which will be opening in the Semel Theater next week. We’re interested in body image in the context of modern feminism — the mannequin kicks off the discussion by inviting people (predominantly women, as implied by the body shape, but we’d welcome male participation too) to place a sticker on the area of the body you would most like to change about yourself.

But, we recognize that there’s so much more to talk about than a single dot can encompass. And we invite you to talk about it here. We’ve turned off registration requirements, so you can maintain anonymity, but we do ask you to keep comments civil and respectful. (This thread is moderated, and particularly offensive comments will be blocked.)

Let’s kick it off with this question: are there any parts of your body that you love, even though society tells you that you should feel otherwise? Share your thoughts below, in the comments.








Occupy Arkady Estate!

By Dennis Connors

In September 2011, a movement sprung up in New York City that shook the political discourse in the United States. This movement quickly spread to different cities around the US including Oakland, Chicago, Washington D.C., and our very own revolutionary home, Boston. The Occupy Movement called hundreds and even thousands of people to protest by not only marching around making sure they were making their voices heard, but by creating their own sustainable camps in each city by supplying food, education, and shelter to everyone that came their way.

These hundreds and thousands of people in each city just happened to be youth that did not agree with the trajectory of our country, especially its customs and policies, which they argued benefited the top 1% at the subjugation of the 99% in the economic battleground. This claim is backed up by reports stating that the 1% raked up around 20% of earnings in the year 2013.

Many critics of Occupy cite the movement’s reluctance towards a clear and singular direction as the reason for its ultimate non-existence only a few months after starting up. Time and time again through history, many youth-in-revolt wish to raise the society of its time to the ground, to start back at the beginning, claiming that they will eventually right all their fore-father’s wrongs. The United States itself was even founded in the spirit of leveling the status quo, and then only after the blank canvas was made was a concrete direction and new status quo implemented.

The spirit that is apparent in these revolutions are similar to that of Bazarov, a character in Fathers and Sons. He yearns to destroy the society that he lives in, one that is currently obsessed with a pseudo-aristocratic mindset and one which, in a few years’ time, is going to abolish serfdom in theory. However, just like the Occupiers you might have seen on your way to class or work, he doesn’t have a clear vision of the new order he wishes to replace it with.

The same critics of Occupy would chastise the Nihilists of late-nineteenth century Russia; however, I question their critiques. The cliche saying that the the grass is always greener on the other side underlies humanity’s struggle with never being completely satisfied. Is the want of constant revolution a negative aspect? The US government would even support Mao’s theory of Permanent Revolution. The Declaration of Independence sought to create a government which would be malleable and capable of constantly being revised, the Hindu Trimurti celebrated death, the ultimate destruction, as part of the cycle of life and rebirth, the earth needs to experience the harsh lifelessness of winter to experience a rebirth in the winter.

Bazarov brings a sense of destruction to his new-found sentiment of love, showing not just how fragile the human life is, but also how wonderful constant revolution is, both in systematic and personal contexts.

Talk to us about how you feel, during a talkback after the Saturday matinee!

Reserve seats for the Saturday matinee here.

Name Your Nihilist

Last week, our e-newsletter asked people a simple question:

Who’s your favorite nihilist?

The question might seem like a strange one to the uninformed, but if you’ve been reading in the past week, you know that the main character of Fathers and Sons, Bazarov, is an avowed nihilist. Nihilism is officially defined (thanks, Webster) as “the idea that traditional values and belief systems have no inherent worth, and that existence in general is pointless.” Bazarov presents this definition with a political twist: as traditional values and beliefs have no inherent worth, he suggests abandoning them in favor of massive social and political reform. (As Robin Goldberg mentioned earlier this week, mid-19th century Russia was considered by much of Europe to be a once-great nation in steep decline.)

It’s a heroic concept, really

At any rate, we asked members of our email list if they would share their favorite nihilists with us, in exchange for the chance at free tickets. We figured we’d share a few of their favorites with you, as well. (Think you’ve got something better? Share them in the comments…)

Favorite Fictional Nihilist:
Mersault, from Camus’ The Stranger
By far the most-nominated character…though Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment was also a pretty strong favorite.

Daria_MorgendorfferFavorite Female Nihilist:
This list is pretty male-centric. Daria Morgendorffer from the animated TV show Daria was the only female nominee we received.

Favorite Nihilist Who Probably Can’t Really Be Called a Nihilist
(because he was written centuries before the phrase was coined):
The title character of The Scottish Play (EmStage’s offices are backstage of the Greene, after all) got  a surprising number of nominations, each of them referencing this soliloquy as proof:

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

UlquiorraschifferFavorite Nihilists Portrayed in Non-Mainstream Media: 

Ulquiorra Cifer, from the manga and anime series Bleach (at right)is actually an embodiment of nihilism itself, and refuses to accept any statement of value that he cannot prove with his own senses.


The Comedian/Edward Blake from the graphic novel Watchmen — started out as a superhero, but grew disenchanted. Now sees the world as a “cruel joke” and suggests that he does bad things partially because no one else ever tries to stop him.


breathless-jean-paul-belmondo-michel-poiccardFavorite Film Nihilist:
Breathless (1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard) is described as a “nihilistic road movie” in which a Bogart-worshipping, chain-smoking, libidinous car thief goes on the lam in the streets of Paris. He is seen as being at odds with the world around him — to the point that that his criminal persona is modeled on an inappropriate American model.

Favorite Nihilist Moment  (tie):
The suicide note from Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place:”
“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.”


This paragraph from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch:
But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom.”

NietzscheFavorite Real-Life Nihilist:
Friedrich Nietzsche, Mr. “God is Dead” himself.
(Actually, point of debate: Nietzsche believed that it was impossible for the human mind to exist without ascribing meaning and values to otherwise neutral items. He did, however, feel it was important that people be aware of whether they were choosing their own interpretations, or thoughtlessly accepting the interpretations of others.)

Favorite Anti-Nihilist:
Sisyphus, from Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus — a man sentenced to a useless, endless task who still manages to find meaning and happiness in his work.


Thanks to everyone who submitted their favorite nihilists. We look forward to seeing you all at Fathers and Sons  next week!