This issue of The Mercurian is bookended by theatrical translations from two languages and two countries we have not published before: Che Xiao’s translation of Villain in a Turbulent Time from China, and Roger Allen’s translation of Soiree for the Fifth of July from Syria. Villain in a Turbulent Time had its genesis in the 2nd Global Alliance of Theater Schools International Festival in Beijing in 2011. Schools from around the world were invited to perform productions of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Students and faculty at the Shanghai Theater Academy adapted Richard III into Peking opera, finding parallels between England’s War of the Roses and the power struggles that existed in China’s historical era of Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms. Shakespearean soliloquies are divided into two characters, one who speaks, the other who dances and does acrobatics. Villain in a Turbulent Time is an example of one approach to cross-cultural translation that adapts the work in the source text to the artistic conventions of the target culture in order to better convey the theatricality of the source text. The Mercurian hopes to publish more translations of contemporary Chinese theatre in the future.
The issue continues with David Copelin and John Van Burek’s translation of German Carl Sternheim’s comedy, Citizen Schippel. Here Copelin and Van Burek worked with a literal translation from the German by Lascelle Wingate, a French translation (a language in which both Copelin an Van Burek are fluent) of Sternheim’s text, and a British English translation of the play to create a North American English translation. The use of literal translations by those not fluent in the source language is a contested issue in the field. Readers can judge for themselves whether or not Citizen Schippel is, as I believe, a theatrically successful translation.
Citizen Schippel is followed by Jacqueline Bixler’s translation of Photograph on the Beach by the great Mexican playwright Emilio Carballido who died in 2008. In her introduction Bixler describes how the final photographic image of both her and Carballido’s favorite play amidst the nearly one hundred he wrote over the course of his career, resonated powerfully with her students at Virginia Tech reading it in the context of the week of April 16, 2007, when thirty-two students and faculty members were killed. Following that mass shooting photographs of the victim proliferated showing their smiling faces frozen in time. This response to Photograph on the Beach illustrates the power of theatrical translation. A play from a different culture and time can speak to the Virginia Tech community and, perhaps, to the too many other communities that have suffered mass shootings since 2007.
Photograph on the Beach is followed by Matthew Ward’s translation of contemporary Spanish playwright Oscar Sanz Cabrera’s Empty Bottles. Winner of the 2012 Premio Kuxta Ciudad de San Sebastián, Empty Bottles is a tragi-comic investigation of what Sanz Cabrera describes as the “purgatory” of lower class like where we find “the most dreadful dramas and the cruelest, and by definition, the funniest comedies.” Spain, one of the countries in the Euro Zone hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis, still suffers from 25% unemployment. Sanz Cabrera’s characters emerge from that context.
Yael Prizant’s translation of Abel González Melo’s Talc depicts the underworld of contemporary Havana, Cuba. Since the “Special Period” of the early 1990s when Russian support for the island abruptly ended, Cuba has had to reinvent itself economically. González Melo’s play, part of a trilogy entitled Winterscapes, shows us the underbelly of that economy in a manner reminiscent of Ancient Greek tragedy yet infused with contemporary Cuban sensibility.
The last translation in this issue is Roger Allen’s translation of one of the most significant figures in modern Arabic drama, Sa`dallah Wannus’ play Soiree for the Fifth of July. Soiree deals with the aftermath in Syria of the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Wannus, a playwright and theoretician heavily influenced by Ionesco, Anouilh, Brecht and Piscator during his studies in Paris, advocated what he called “politicization theater” as a response to the events of 1967. In Soiree he uses a play-within-a-play structure, with actors representing both spectators and the Syrian security forces interspersed throughout the audience frequently responding to the events on stage. In this way Wannus theatricalizes what Allen describes as the initial reaction to the 1967 war in the Arab world, “combined despair and fury, then the aftermath also provoked a widespread and profound consideration, or indeed reconsideration, of the very bases of post-independence Arab society and of Arab values in general.” Given the situation in Syria today and, indeed, throughout the Arab-speaking world in 2014 following the events of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, The Mercurian is privileged to publish Allen’s translation of Wannus’ Soiree for the Fifth of July.
Finally, we conclude the issue with Iride Lamartine-Lens’ book review of New Plays From Spain: Eight Works by Seven Playwrights that presents translations of post-Francoist playwrights from contemporary Spain. Along with Oscar Sanz Cabrera’s Empty Bottles in this issue, this collection of translations forcefully demonstrates that there is excellent work being produced today in Spain, despite a worldwide lack of attention to it. Such work deserves recognition beyond Spain’s borders while we still celebrate the brilliance of sixteenth-century playwrights such as Calderón de la Barca, Tirso de Molina, and Lope de Vega; or the nineteenth century José Zorrilla, or the early twentieth century Frederico García Lorca.
Back issues of The Mercurian can be found at: http://drama.unc.edu/related-links/the-mercurian/ or Index. As the theatre is nothing without its audience, The Mercurian welcomes your comments, questions, complaints, and critiques. Deadline for submissions for consideration for Volume 5, No. 3 (Spring 2015) will be February 1, 2015.
Neil Blackadder, Knox College
Catherine Coray, hotINK at the LARK/New York University
Richard Davis, George Mason University/Theater of the First Amendment
Jean Graham-Jones, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York
David Johnston, Queen’s University, Belfast, N. Ireland
Kirsten Nigro, The University of Texas-El Paso
Caridad Svich, Playwright/Translator
Paul Walsh, Yale School of Drama