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The World on Stage: Micro-Plays in Translation

December 2016

Image: Dimitri Tavadze, Illustration of a production of “The Spanish Curate” at the Rustaveli Theater, 1954. Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Dimitri Tavadze, Illustration of a production of “The Spanish Curate” at the Rustaveli Theater, 1954. Wikimedia Commons.

More than ten years after Words without Borders presented its first issue of theater in translation, we’re back at it again. Much in the world has changed in the intervening decade, and in our current issue, we present five works of microtheater, a genre over a century in the making. Microtheater, as guest editor Sarah Maitland remarks in her introduction, is notable for its “capacity for instruction, for renovation and contemporaneity,” and its “immediacy of response to some of the most urgent questions of our time.” It should come as no surprise, then, that the five works here, from five different countries, capture the anxiety and uncertainty that define the zeitgeist.

José Ignacio Valenzuela’s Number Six and Roberto Athayde’s Visitors from on High transport us beyond our quotidian mundanity and at the same time examine the worries inherent to it. In Valenzuela’s Number Six, a distrustful woman debates whether she ought to allow a stranger whose car has broken down in the midst of a thunderstorm into her home. Athayde, meanwhile, presents us with outer space so that we might reflect on terrestrial concerns around man’s place in the world and in the universe at large.

In No Direction, Spanish dramaturges Miguel Alcantud and Santiago Molero present us with a nameless man who appears to be kept in captivity by a woman, Ana. In the cyclical conversation between the two, which almost resembles a call-and-response but serves to disorient rather than reinforce commonality, the man’s inability to fully comprehend his predicament is mirrored in the audience’s similar struggle to make sense of a situation bereft of the typical structural markers of conventional narrative.

If Andrei Platonov’s Grandmother’s Little Hut and Jerzy Lutowski’s Love Thy Savior adhere to more conventional narrative structure, their power lies in their use of historical precedent to comment on contemporary societal questions. In Platonov’s unfinished play from 1938, two young orphans seek out their promised land in the form of a hut where the grandmother of one lives. Lutowski, meanwhile, takes us to Inquisition-era Spain, where intolerance demands a bold choice of a young Jewish woman with little prospect of escaping the harrowing implications of the options before her.

In our feature, seasoned theater translators Paul Russell Garrett and William Gregory shed light on the mysterious role of the translator in contemporary theater and trace a path for increased translator participation in the theater-making process.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Center for the Humanities’ Translation Mellon Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research at the Graduate Center, CUNY. The Translation Seminar is an interdisciplinary research group that investigates how translation might be understood as a process of transformation that deepens engagement with places, people, cultures, and languages.