Devising an offstage: the dramaturgy of Brian Friel

Faulkner, Emma (2004) Devising an offstage: the dramaturgy of Brian Friel. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

In some theatre there is a sense that what you see is all you get; in, for instance, circus or many plays of Samuel Beckett or most plays of Frank McGuinness. But on the other hand, there is another mode of theatre, where what you get is always more than the action of the immediate moment onstage. This is evident in the theatre of Jean Racine, the late plays of William Shakespeare, the late plays of Henrik Ibsen and in many of the plays of Sean O'Casey. Brian Friel belongs to this latter tradition and it is from this perspective that his work is studied in this thesis. Philadelphia, Here I Come!, because it was Friel's first big theatre success, is regarded by many critics as his springboard. Although I refer to that play in my thesis, it is his second play The Loves of Cass McGuire that is taken as his seminal work. The Loves of Cass McGuire, which was the first play that Friel wrote for Broadway for the internationally renowned American actress, Ruth Gordon, is a play that relies heavily on the verbal technique of audience address and it is this device that will be the focus of my first section in which offstage action is examined. Chapter I analyses the way in which the audience address in this early play gives flexibility to the dramatic form of Friel's work by allowing Cass to address the theatre audience in a way that flits between the world of thought, which concerns her remembrance of the past, and the present world of action onstage. Chapter II investigates how Friel reworked and reworked this device of audience address in plays after The Love of Cass McGuire so as to evoke not only real but also imagined and invisible audiences. The second section considers the way in which offstage time and spatial margins are demarcated by verbal and aural techniques. In Chapter III, the stage window - as an object of the fourth, wall - becomes a spatial marker and provides a view on offstage activity, which is conveyed verbally by the protagonist that peers through it. Friel's experimentations with the window in The Loves of Cass McGuire, The Gentle Island, Translations and Dancing at Lughnasa is compared to its use in the work of the 1960's Avant-Garde Polish theatre director, Tadeusz Kantor. In Chapter IV the aural fabric of music is examined as Friel uses it to highlight boundaries between on and offstage space and the time frames of the past and present, so that a double perspective is offered in Philadelphia, Here I Come!, The Loves of Cass McGuire, Aristocrats, Dancing at Lughnasa and Performances. In Chapter V, the time frames of the past - of necessity and indeed by definition, offstage - and the present action that takes place onstage are distorted through the oral vehicle of remembrance and reportage. The discrepancy between what the audience sees and hears contributes to a plural rather than singular perspective in Lovers, The Freedom of the City, Volunteers, Faith Healer, Living Quarters and Afterplay. Moving away from stage devices, my last section considers the built-in metaphor of blindness in Friel's late play, Molly Sweeney. The play's monologue structure obliges the audience to engage with verbal and aural perceptions, to focus on what is offstage to make sense of what we simply see. The ensuing theatrical experience is therefore one whereby what you see is only the beginning of what you get.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Paddy Lyons
Keywords: Theater
Date of Award: 2004
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2004-71184
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 10 May 2019 10:49
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71184

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