New Plays from Spain: Eight Works by Seven Playwrights. Edited by Frank Hentschker. New York: Martin E. Segal Publications, 2013; pp. 366.
Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall 2014)
As Íñigo Ramirez de Haro states in the Forward of New Plays from Spain: Eight Works by Seven Playwrights, one of the most bewildering phenomena beleaguering Spanish culture today is the meager presence of post-Francoist playwrights on the non-Spanish speaking theater goers’ minds or their respective stages. This uncanny development is particularly disconcerting in the light of Spain’s brilliant five hundred year legacy in theater that has seen the likes of Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, Tirso de Molina, José Zorrilla and García Lorca whose visionary minds have penned some of Western theater’s most universally applauded plays with such unforgettable characters as Don Juan, El Cid, Segismundo and Bernarda Alba. Today’s reality cannot be attributed to a scarcity of living, actively-engaged playwrights nor of stage-worthy plays. In fact, these last four decades have witnessed the genre flourish even further by becoming ever more diversified and inclusive as it welcomes more women and regional dramatists to its rapidly expanding stylistic and linguistic repertoire. Contrary to Ramirez de Haro’s statement that this is the “first attempt to do justice to contemporary Spanish playwriting”, it is important to clarify that Hispanists in the United States have published several bilingual drama anthologies, translations in American theater journals, and an annual series since 1992 of English translations in Estreno Contemporary Spanish Plays. In spite of these efforts, the visibility and accessibility of English translations in the English-speaking world continues to be sparse. The question remains, what is obstructing the exportation of Spain’s contemporary theater outside of its national and/or linguistic borders? Perhaps the title and the strategy behind the 2012-2013 staged reading series in New York, Give us a damn stage!, provide us with a possible answer to this enigma. It is not so much a shortage of English translations of Spanish plays rather a matter of access to venues open to take the leap from page to stage. This present collection of English translations is the product of a concerted effort by collaborators from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (Fundación Autor and SGAE in Spain, and the Cervantes Institute as well as the Martin E. Segal Theater Center of CUNY in New York) to overcome linguistic barriers and expose English-speaking directors, theater goers, readers and academia to the delightful diversity and top-notch quality of Spain’s theater in the twenty-first century.
New Plays from Spain: Eight Works by Seven Playwrights is one of several steps in the process of marketing Spain’s current theater to an American audience. As mentioned above, the Give us a damn stage! event began in the Fall of 2012 with the staged reading in Spanish of the selected eight plays at the Repertorio Español. The following May, staged readings of the same plays were presented in English at the Martin E. Segal Theater. At the end of this two-day marathon, there was an open Q&A with all of the collaborators including the dramatists, translators, directors and actors. I was fortunate enough to be present at all the events and I can attest to the overwhelmingly positive audience response to these dramatic works. It was truly amazing! The May event was quickly followed by the publication and presentation of this collection. Although it is unquestionably admirable to have gathered, organized, edited and published such a large number of plays in one collection so swiftly, there are several omissions and inconsistencies that should be noted and perhaps avoided if there is to be a promised future series of these anthologies. Please allow me to specify.
If the intended readership of this volume is an English-speaking audience unfamiliar with Spain’s current playwrights or theater, then it would make sense to provide a brief introduction of the chosen dramatists highlighting the diversity of styles, regions, and languages (several of these plays were translated not from Spanish but from Catalán). The seven authors also represent several generations of actively-engaged dramatists contributing to the current theater scene in Spain. There is no such orientation for the readers. There is no mention made of the fact that this representative group reflects playwrights at different stages of their careers that includes neophytes as well as time-honored authors like Ernesto Caballero. In addition, the original titles of the plays in Spanish or Catalán as well as the year in which they were written are omitted. For those interested in knowing these details, it will be necessary to go to the copyright page.
Surely the most striking inconsistency may be found in the decision to present three of the eight plays in the original Spanish side by side with the English translation, and the remaining five solely in English. This seems a bit odd for anthologies of this nature usually choose to do one or the other. Another significant inconsistency lies in the quality of the translations themselves. The translations include variations of English from both England (Paquita translated by Patricia Rodríguez Méndez) as well as the United States, and their quality ranges from superb and stage-ready (Promised Land translated by Marion Holt) to others that still are in need of revisions. This might be due to the fact that several translations were done by the authors themselves who are less proficient in the second language.
It is important to point out that my reservations are directed more toward the format of the book. There is no doubt as to the excellence of the selection of representative plays and dramatists included in the anthology. New Plays from Spain: Eight Works by Seven Playwrights contains a treasure trove of theatrical delights offering something for every theater lover’s preference. Among them one will find: a riveting monologue by an obsessive actress ensnared in her role as a murder on and off the stage (Paquita by Ernesto Caballero and translated by Patricia Rodríguez Méndez); a collage of provocative sketches that tiptoe through the minefield of fear, disillusionment, and socio-economic blunders that have marked the last fifty years of Spanish history (On the Moon by Alfredo Sanzol and translated by Simon Breden); the ubiquitous presence of technology in daily life and its questionable impact on relationships and society (Smartphones written and translated by Emilio Williams); a whimsical peek at three modern day couples (ranging in age in their 20’s, 40’s and 60’s) each faced with the breakup of a romantic relationship that somehow got lost in the emotional labyrinth of pride, fear and miscommunication (Happily Ever After written and translated by Cristina Colmena); the existential dilemma of workers trapped in the economic recession and forced to adapt to the absurd demands of the times (Typing written and translated by Cristina Colmena); a stage adaptation of an historical event based on a Spanish ship’s rescue of 51 African castaways at sea, and the moral dilemmas and political complexities arising out of the unstoppable wave of massive numbers of human migration (Numbers by Mar Gómez Glez and translated by William Gregory); a politically-charged futuristic drama that hones in not only on the dire impact of climate change on developing nations but also on the ethical and economic responsibilities of first world nations (Promised Land by Guillem Clúa and translated by Marion Holt); and, finally, an imaginary encounter between the iconic Picasso and other exiled socialist compatriots in France after Spain’s Civil War (1936-39) that underscores the continued struggle of these unsung patriots to hold on to a fading identity, to refuse to go along with outside pressures to conform and forget, and to resist the temptation to renounce their political ideals (Picasso and His Barber by Borja Ortíz de Gondra and translated by Nancy Festinger). Altogether, New Plays from Spain: Eight Works by Seven Playwrights is a living testament to the continuing powerful and influential legacy of today’s theater in Spain.
Iride Lamartina-Lens is a Professor of Spanish language, literature, culture and translation in the Department of Modern Languages at Pace University in Manhattan. She is a translator and a specialist of contemporary theater written in Spain. She has published numerous articles in the field, and co-written with Candyce Leonard two critical Spanish theater anthologies: Nuevos Manantiales: Dramaturgas Españolas en los Noventa, vols. 1 & 2 (2001); and Testimonios del Teatro Español: 1950-2000 (2002). Together with Susan Berardini, she is the co-editor of the English translation series of contemporary Spanish theater, Estreno Contemporary Spanish Plays that to date includes 37 volumes of diversified theater written by Spain’s most renown playwrights. Her published translations include, In the Other Room (En la otra habitación) by Paloma Pedrero; Tsunami (Tsunami) by Guillermo Heras; and Darwin’s Tortoise (La tortuga de Darwin) by Juan Mayorga.
 There are several excellent publications of English translations of Spanish plays. Here is just a sampling: Plays of the New Democratic Spain (1975-1990). Ed. Patricia O’Connor. New York: University Press of America, 1992; Modern Spanish Stage:4 Plays. Ed. Marion Holt. New York: Hill and Wang, 1970; Antonio Buero Vallejo: Three Plays. Ed. Marion Holt. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1985; One-Act Spanish Plays by Women about Women. Ed. Patricia O’Connor. Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 1998; One-Act Spanish Plays by Women about Women in the Early Years of the 21st Century. Ed. Patricia O’Connor. Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 2006.