Welcome to the Fall 2019 issue of The Mercurian: A Theatrical Translation Review!
We begin with Emma Pauly’s theatrically rich, surprisingly contemporary translation of Euripides’ The Bacchae. Pauly’s translation captures the give and take between stage and audience that would have marked Euripides’ theatrical practice as Dionysus frequently addresses the audience directly. As Dionysus is both the blood that courses through the veins of all beasts, including human beings, and the sap that flows through trees and plants, the god is genderless and breaks all bounds or any attempts to define the divinity’s essence. In her introduction, Pauly calls for a non-binary, gender non-conforming, or queer actor to enact Dionysus, another mark of this translation of an ancient Greek play for the twenty-first century.
The issue continues with Elena Igartuburu’s translation of contemporary Catalan playwright Marta Aran’s play Lamp Lady. Lamp Lady delves into the world of contemporary art as its characters attempt to establish themselves as artists and curators while juggling their ambitions with their desires for relationships and children. Perhaps more salient than her plot, however, is Aran’s language that, with its repetitions, circularity, and frequent hesitations illustrates her characters’ constant lack of understanding of, or engagement with, one another.
Lamp Lady is followed by Michael Evans’ translation of Danish playwright Astrid Saalbach’s play End of the World. Evans, whose provocation Credo: 18 Thoughts on Translating for the Theatre appeared in The Mercurian, Vol. 4, No. 1; plunges us into Saalbach’s fantastical world, a fascistic society where absolute perfection is the only goal. Politicians who lose their elected offices and soccer teams who do not win are quickly eliminated. Saalbach’s play can be interpreted in a variety of ways as her protagonist Xenia, a flight attendant, gains everything she’s always wanted, only to lose it again.
The issue concludes with three book reviews, all on translations of or about translating Spanish Golden Age theatre. First comes Jean Graham-Jones’ review of Kathleen Jeffs’ Staging the Spanish Golden Age: Translation and Performance. Graham-Jones, whose translation of Ricardo Monti’s Apocalypse Tomorrow appeared in The Mercurian, Vol. 2, No. 1, details Jeffs’ approach as a “participant-observer” to describing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2004-2005 “Spanish Season,” and discusses what she calls Jeffs’ “productive model for translation as artistic collaboration and textual interpretation.”
Graham-Jones’ review of Jeffs’ monograph is followed Kathleen Jeff’s own review of Harley Erdman’s translation of Luis Vélez de Guevara’s play The Mountain Girl from La Vera, published with facing pages in the Spanish original by Aris & Phillips Hispanic Classics series. Here too we find a translation of a Spanish Golden Age text with an eye towards contemporary performance. Not only does Erdman’s translation bring Vélez’ “moza varonil” or “He-Girl” to life for us but Jeffs’ also discusses his approach to translating the polymetry and rhyme in Vélez’ text. Rather than force English end rhymes, Erdman strives for speakability and rhetorical flourish.
Completing a reviewing circle, Jeffs’ review of Erdman’s translation is followed by Gregary J. Racz’ review of Kathleen Jeffs’ translation of Guillén de Castro’s play, The Force of Habit. Published in the same bilingual series from Aris & Phillips as Erdman’s translation, this is, as Racz notes, the first published English translation of the play. Continuing this issue’s completely serendipitous focus on gender, Guillén de Castro’s The Force of Habit revolves “around young adult siblings having their “correct” gender identities “restored” to correspond with each one’s biological sex.” Racz unpacks how classical and Renaissance views regarding the ways that habit shapes behavior, when combined with the Spanish Golden Age’s strict codes of honor, create a radically different context for us than the gender-switching dramas of the period elsewhere. For a production approach to staging Jeffs’ translation see Sara Freeman’s article, “Researching and Directing Guillén de Castro’s The Force of Habit” in The Mercurian, Vol. 6, No. 1.
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 8, No. 1 (Spring 2020) will be February 1, 2020.