Brian Friel’s play “Aristocrats” is an exposing piece on the dynamics of an Irish wealthy family in a fiction town based loosely on county Donegal. One look at the set tells the viewer that there is extreme disrepair or even a fall from grace. This “big house” that once sat commanding on top of a hill is slowly losing its luster and, even more notably, its power. The disrepair of the house directly reflects the disrepair of the family who are tied to it. Each generation’s male figure has fallen further and further from power into lower roles in the justice system. From Supreme Court member to a failed solicitor, which is lower still than a barrister, the family has fallen right alongside with the house itself.
Each of the characters has a part of their life or self that they try to keep hidden. Claire, the youngest daughter, seems to have some kind of medical condition that stifles her participation in society. It appears that she is almost being forced to marry with a groom that would normally be ill fit for a young and talented girl. Eamon and Judith seem to be hiding a past which is revealed later in the play. Alice poorly hides her alcoholism and her bruise she received from Eamon. Casimir seems to hide the most it is unclear whether the life that he talks about in Germany truly exists. There is much speculation, even from his own family, as to the reality of his so called wife and children in a place they have never visited.
Appearance vs. Reality
Having the American professor come to the house exposes many of the realities in each of the characters’ lives. Every person who talks to the professor seems to give him contradicting stories about the people in their life or how things were growing up. Alice on more than one occasion tells the professor that all he has been hearing are lies. The worst offender of all would be Casimir who tells the professor fantastic stories of famous musicians, politicians and aristocrats who have all been to the big house.
– Tracy Venella