Welcome to the Fall 2018 issue of The Mercurian: A Theatrical Translation Review! Five plays, one opera, and one book review present different translation challenges having to do with radically different approaches to theatrical structure, character, and language from Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Korean, French, and German than commonly occurs in conventional U.S. dramaturgy.
We open the issue with Mihaela Murdure’s translation of Romanian playwright Radu Tuculescu’s one-act The Thief or Three in the Bedroom. This dark comedy uses the device of the erotic triangle to examine Romanian society after the fall of Ceausescu in December 1989. In the process Tuculescu reveals the hypocrisy and corruption of Romanian politics in the period.
Next is Zeljko Maksimovic and Cory Tamler’s translation of the Bosnian playwright Tanja Sljivar’s We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About in which the accidental meeting of a middle-aged woman and a teenaged boy in a public restroom becomes a series of scenes of role-playing as they attempt to make sense of their lives. As the translators note, not only were they faced with conveying the cultural and political complexity of the Balkans to an English-speaking audience, but also with a text heavily imbued with regional Bosnian idiomatic expressions that might be difficult for even a native speaker to untangle, as well as allusions to Bosnian folk songs, Serbian TV shows, and bloody regional conflicts that might elude the understanding of even audiences from the region.
We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About is followed by Samuel Buggeln (translator of Marivaux’s School for Mothers in Vol. 4, No. 2 and Molière’s Hater in Vol. 5, No. 1) and Ariel Gurevich’s translation of Argentine playwright Rafael Spregelburd’s Why Does Everything. Spregelburd’s text is divided into three sequences utilizing various doubling schemes for the actors as the play investigates state bureaucracy, art, business, religion, and superstition. As the translators discuss, contemporary Argentine theatre, and Spregelburd’s own company in particular, frequently runs at a fast pace, with lines overlapping each other in a manner that can seem chaotic to Anglo audiences. The fact that Spregelburd directs and performs in his own plays and that such productions often tour or run intermittently for two years or more, frequently means that a published text does not reflect the rhythm and/or textual changes made in performance. By working closely with Spregelburd on their translation Buggeln and Gurevich attempt to recreate that feeling of Argentine performance on the page.
Spregelburd’s play is followed by Walter Byongsok Chon’s translation of South Korean playwright Sam-Shik Pai’s play Inching Towards Yeolha. By means of a talking “four-legged beast” who relates tales of the outside world to an isolated village, Pai creates an allegorical satire that explores the tension between tradition and innovation. Drawing upon the travel diary of an eighteenth-century Korean philosopher named Yeon-Ahm, Pai’s play explores Yeon-Ahm’s search for practical ideas based in Chinese Confucianism that could be used to modernize Korean society. As Chon discusses in his introduction, while Korean-American playwrights have recently begun to receive recognition, contemporary Korean theatre in translation has largely been absent from the English-speaking theatre. The Mercurian hopes that the publication of Chon’s translation will spur more work in this area.
We continue with David Carter’s translation of the undervalued twentieth-century French playwright Arthur Adamov’s The Invasion. A contemporary and friend of Antonin Artaud, André Gide, and Jean Vilar, Adamov’s play investigates the nature of human existence in Europe in the 1950s, with references that seem all too contemporary as we deal with present day issues of mass migration. Influenced by both August Strindberg and Franz Kafka, Adamov’s work mixes dream-like scenarios with existential angst and political theory.
We conclude this issue with Mark Herman and Ronnie Apter’s translation of Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Carl Hiemer’s singspiel Abu Hassan, paired with Rick Davis’ review of Apter and Herman’s book Translating for Singing: The Theory, Art and Craft of Translating Lyrics. Abu Hassan, although using the tale of Abu al-Hasan told by Sahrazad to King Shahyar in Thousand and One Nights, parallels Weber and Hiemer’s own constant condition of debt. Davis’ book review presents Apter and Herman’s “exploration of the perils and promise of translating for sung performance.” A practice that has been largely shunned by Anglophone productions of opera.
Back issues of The Mercurian can be found at: https://the-mercurian.com/.
As the theatre is nothing without its audience, The Mercurian welcomes your comments, questions, complaints, and critiques. Deadline for submissions for consideration for Volume 7, No. 3 (Spring 2018) will be February 1, 2019.