Tony-win­ning play­wright Brian Friel dies at 86


Brian Friel, the Tony Award­win­ning play­wright who cre­ated “Danc­ing at Lugh­nasa” and more than 30 other plays, has died in Ire­land at the age of 86.

The gov­ern­ment and the Arts Coun­cil of Ire­land said Friel died Fri­day in his sea­side home in County Done­gal, north­west Ire­land, the set­ting for most of his five decades of work. No cause of death was given.

“His myth­i­cal sto­ries from Bally­beg reached all corners of the world from Dublin to Lon­don to Broad­way and onto the sil­ver screen,” said Ir­ish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who praised Friel as “the con­sum­mate Ir­ish sto­ry­teller. His work spoke to each of us with hu­mor, emo­tion and au­then­tic­ity.”

Bally­beg, which means “lit­tle town” in Gaelic, was the fic­tional Done­gal set­ting for much of Friel’s work.

Trained as a teacher, Friel turned to writ­ing plays full time af­ter the in­ter­na­tional suc­cess of his de­but 1964 play about an Ir­ish­man con­tem­plat­ing im­mi­nent emi­ga­tion, “Philadelphia, Here I Come!”

He col­lab­o­rated with ac­tor Stephen Rea in found­ing Ire­land’s Field Day Theatre Com­pany to pro­duce its inau­gu­ral work, “Trans­la­tions,” in 1980. Their com­pany at­tracted many of Ire­land’s lead­ing literary lights, in­clud­ing fu­ture No­bel Prize-win­ning poet Sea­mus Heaney.

Friel re­ceived his great­est ac­claim for his 1990 play “Danc­ing at Lugh­nasa,” which won three Tonys in 1992. It was turned into a 1998 film star­ring Meryl Streep.

The play re­called, through the mem­ory of an adult man, his boy- hood mem­o­ries of spend­ing a sum­mer in 1936 in the com­pany of his five un­mar­ried aunts.

He rarely gave in­ter­views, pre­fer­ring the soli­tude of Done­gal with its bar­ren hills and windswept beaches.

“Brian was a gi­ant of the theater, and a hum­ble and quiet man, who en­joyed the pri­vate com­pany of fam­ily, friends and col­leagues, but who shunned the spotlight,” said Sheila Pratschke, chair­woman of the Arts Coun­cil. “He had a nat­u­ral, easy and pro­found un­der­stand­ing of the ac­tor’s craft, and he spoke about how the ac­tor’s public ut­ter­ance of the play­wright’s pri­vate words was what made the ex­pe­ri­ence of theater so unique.”

Fu­neral ar­range­ments were not an­nounced. Friel is sur­vived by his wife, Anne Mor­ri­son, four daugh­ters and a son.

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