A morning in June. The inhabitants of Inishkeen, The Gentle Island, off the west coast of County Donegal, are leaving for good — all except Manus Sweeney and his family.
In this parable of Ireland one of the characters remarks, ‘There’s ways and ways of telling every story. Every story has seven faces,’ and the title of Brian Friel’s brave work belies a set of violent sexual and homosexual tensions. In the author’s inimitable language and characterization the island’s story and history unfold towards a shattering climax.
‘This is Friel at his most intriguing, with his ironic title and with a second act that plunges into pungent drama reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill.’ — Evening Herald
More than any other play of Brian Friel’s up to 1971, The Gentle Island was the most threatening, the most perplexing, the most far-sighted of all. Its power lies in revelation, relentless, painful. It hears the beating of a savage heart. Savagery can sometimes be dependent on steadiness and stability. Stability can be the force of habit, and that force may fail […] In The Gentle Island, Friel’s theatre is one of concentration, narrowing immense events within a dramatic logic that leaves nothing to chance. He spares his characters nothing, particularly not their history, for all t hey may wish to defy it.
— Frank McGuinness, ‘Surviving the 1960s: Three Plays by Brian Friel 1968-1971,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Brian Friel, ed. Anthony Roche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)