Old age and aging may not seem an immediate priority in Brian Friel’s drama, yet several plays feature memorable characters of old, elderly, aging, or declining people, whose presence on stage is occasionally revealed through their absence. The growing cultural visibility of older people contrasts with their invisibility as useless members of society: they are physically present, yet invisible. In Friel’s dramaturgy, this arouses reflection on the role of old age absent from the mimetic space and relegated to the diegetic space offstage; absence as a theatrical device marks offstage characters as potential catalysts for action. If in some plays elderly characters remain in the background, in others they become pivotal to dramatic construction, ranging from dominant figures like Columba in The Enemy Within (1962), to tyrannical ones such as Manus in The Gentle Island (1971) and Father in Aristocrats (1979), to social outcasts in The Loves of Cass McGuire (1967) and Dancing at Lughnasa (1990). This essay considers the variety of ways in which Friel introduces or openly deals with the issues of aging and of old age through stagecraft and varied dramatic choices as well as the manipulation of mimetic and diegetic space in terms of presence and absence in particular. (GT)
Vincent Woods’s play, A Cry from Heaven (2005), is an interesting and provocative rewriting in the twenty-first century of the old legend of Deirdre and the Sons of Uisneach, mainly following the Old Irish version, Longes mac N-Uisleann. Unlike the Deirdre plays of the Revival, it stages and exploits the dramatic cry of Deirdre from her mother’s womb.
The play has a mixed nature, it is both a pre-text and an after-text, since Woods manipulates the sources and provides twists and variations recounting his own alternative conclusion. At the same time, the play sheds light on language, words, and speech acts as structuring principles. The essay examines the multiple sources of Woods’s play in order to focus on the structuring power of language which characterises the old legend and which plays a relevant role in A Cry from Heaven. (GT)