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Brian Friel, Playwright of Dancing at Lughnasa, Dies at 86

Friel was hailed as the "Irish Chekhov" and as one of the greatest English-language dramatists of all time.

Playwright Brian Friel has died at the age of 86.

Brian Friel, the Irish dramatist behind the plays Faith Healer, Philadelphia, Here I Come!, and the Tony-winning Dancing at Lughnasa, has died at the age of 86.

Hailed as the "Irish Chekhov" and considered one of the greatest English-language playwrights of all time, Friel wrote more than 30 plays in his 60-year career, which began when he was invited by Tyrone Guthrie to work at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in 1963.

Born January 9, 1929, in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, Friel's father was a teacher, and his mother a postmistress. He studied for the priesthood for two years before becoming a teacher himself in the late 1930s. Along the way he began writing radio plays and short stories, several of which were collected by The New Yorker and published.

It's these that grabbed Guthrie's attention, and after working at the Guthrie Theater, Friel chose a career as a dramatist. His first play, Philadelphia, Here I Come!, premiered at the Dublin Theater Festival in 1964, moving to Broadway two years later and earning the playwright his first Tony nomination.

Friel was a regular on Broadway throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with presentations of his plays The Loves of Cass McGuire (1966), the Tony-nominated Lovers (1968), The Mundy Scheme (1969), The Freedom of the City (1974), and Faith Healer (1979).

In 1980, Friel and the actor Stephen Rea cofounded the Field Day Theatre Company, launching a production of Friel's newest play, Translations. They also presented his plays The Communication Cord (1982) and Making History (1988), as well as works by the likes of Seamus Heaney and others. The company still exists, both as a producing and publishing organization.

Friel's most famous work, Dancing at Lughnasa, was first presented at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1990. It received London's Olivier Award upon its transfer to the West End's National Theatre, and the 1992 Tony Award when it moved to Broadway. It was adapted for the screen in 1998, with a cast led by Meryl Streep.

In recent years, Friel's body of work has become ripe for revival. A starry Broadway revival of Faith Healer, with a cast made up of Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones, and a Tony-winning Ian McDiarmid, opened in 2006. In 2007, Manhattan Theatre Club presented a new production of Translations. Off-Broadway's Irish Repertory Theater has presented acclaimed revivals of Lughnasa, The Freedom of the City, and several other Friel works since the 1990s.

Friel is predeceased by his daughter, Patricia, who died in 2012. He is survived by his wife, Anne Morrison, whom he married in 1954, and their children Mary, Judy, Sally, and David.

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