Volume 8, Issue 4 (Fall 2021)
Welcome to the Fall 2021 issue of The Mercurian! While vaccination and other medical, social, and political responses to the global pandemic have enabled some parts of the world to emerge from lockdowns and return to live performances, there remains great disparity in vaccination rates between and within countries making travel and many forms of cultural exchange difficult, if not impossible. In such a context theatrical translation can give us a sense of varied theatrical cultures and I hope that the five plays and one book review in this issue provide a means of exploring different traditions in parts of the world distinct from your own.
The issue begins with Amanda T. Perry’s translation of Cuban playwright Antón Arrufat’s play Seven Against Thebes. As Perry describes in her introduction, while the play won the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) Theatre Prize in 1968, it became the subject of heated controversy when two jurors voted against it on political grounds and UNEAC published the play with a preface condemning its contents. Arrufat was effectively banned from publishing throughout the next decade in Cuba. He published prose and poetry in the 1980s and 1990s, but largely abandon the theatre. In 2000 he won Cuba’s National Prize for Literature. In 2001 Seven Against Thebes wasrepublished and subsequently staged in a revised form in 2007. Perry’s translation is of the 1968 version and is contextualized for us here by additional material including translations of the UNEAC preface and Leopoldo Ávila’s article, “Antón Goes to War.”
Next comes Jozefina Komporaly’s translation of a stage adaptation of Romanian playwright Matéi Visniec’s Decomposed Theatre. Going into self-imposed exile in France in 1987, where he works as a journalist for Radio France Internationale, Visniec moved from writing his plays in Romanian to writing in French. Komporaly has based her translation on a French and Romanian version of the play produced in 1993, as well as relying heavily on Visniec’s subsequent Romanian version of the play. Visniec calls Decomposed Theatre a “modular text” and encourages theatre companies to perform its collection of independent scenes in a wide variety of permutations. The version published here was performed by Trap Door Theatre via Zoom in eight episodes between December 2020 and February 2021. Readers will thus encounter a play not only translated from two different languages with an endlessly flexible structure, but also one specifically conceived of for virtual performance. Each of these aspects of Decomposed Theatre presents its own translation challenges.
Decomposed Theatre is followed by Sharon G. Feldman’s translation of Catalan playwright Gemma Brió Zamora’s play Liberto. A well-known stage and television actor in both Catalan and Spanish, this is Brió Zamora’s first play and is based upon her own personal experience of loss and struggling with the ethics of euthanasia. Loss, grief, and resilience have been so much a part of all our lives in the past year and a half, and I hope that Brió Zamora’s play, with its formal mixture of monologues, dialogues, and video sequences, helps assuage some of the pain we have encountered.
Next comes Fatemeh Madani Sarbarani’s translation of Iranian playwright Hossein Kiani’s play Tomb Dwellers from 2009. The play was first staged after the hotly contested presidential election that brought Mahmoud Admadineajad into power for a second term. As Sarbarani describes in her introduction, mounting a production of the play involved creative manipulation of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s censorship. As a result, the play’s sharp critique of Iranian authority becomes oblique and allegorical, yet fully comprehensible to its intended audience. Readers can judge for themselves how much of this approach translates for them.
The last translation in this issue is David McKay’s translation of Belgian playwright Freek Marién’s play The Wetsuitman that premiered in Dutch in Antwerp, Belgium in 2019. A fictionalized rendition of true stories and historical events, The Wetsuitman was inspired by a newspaper article about two refugees who tried to swim from Calais to England, only to be washed ashore in Norway and the Netherlands. Along with several of the other translations in this issue, Marién‘s play breaks formal structural conventions, merging characters and timelines and can be performed by anywhere from three to twenty-eight performers. McKay’s translation of The Wetsuitman is slated for two productions in 2022, one at London’s Foreign Affairs and the other at the Cherry Arts in Ithaca, NY where Samuel Buggeln, whose translations of Rafael Sprelgelburd, Marivaux, and Molière’s plays have appeared in previous issues of The Mercurian, is Artistic Director.
The issue ends with Adele Lee’s review of Alexa Alice Joubin’s book Shakespeare in East Asia. Joubin’s book analyzes a number of East Asian stage and film adaptations of Shakespeare. The Mercurian has always taken a “big tent” approach to covering theatrical translation, and Joubin’s book offers those who wish to approach Shakespeare through a non-Anglophone lens a window into East Asian performances of Shakespeare in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Back issues of The Mercurian can be found at under the “Archives” tab on our website: 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 9, No. 1 Spring 2022 will be February 1, 2022.