Parrying with these boomerangs was the job of the translators, whose task was preserving the essential "Frenchness" of each piece while rendering them accessible to American audiences. Stylistically and thematically each play encompasses a singular vision and voice, but all are characterized by their particularly expressive uses of language. Bertoux and Mueller both cite festival participant Aubert as an exemplar of a playwright for whom the language itself is the primary dramatic element.
"The characters and the story are consequences of the language," opines Bertoux. Kimberley Jannarone, who co-translated (with Erik Butler) Aubert's Orgueil, Poursuite et Décapitation (Pride, Pursuit, and Decapitation) for Des Voix, concurs with this assessment. During a visit to the exhaustive, month-long, Festival d'Avignon, Jannarone became aware of the current emphasis on language-driven drama in modern-day France.
"Words were driving the theatrical action — they were the action," she reflects via email. "The saying of words, the savoring of words, the relish in words, even the reflection on the delivery of words and the inability to stop them." A chance encounter with another Aubert play at the Théâtre du peuple, in Bussang, cemented her desire to translate Pride.
"There were those words, flying all over the stage, accompanied by an exuberant theatricality impossible to put into stage directions," Jannarone recalls. "Toy horses' heads, leaping taxidermied animals, childishly scrawled backdrops, goofy set pieces, flying actors, barn doors swinging open into the countryside — it was nonstop action, all propelled by Aubert's long columns of words."
For Melrose, the challenge of translating the "heightened poetic, artfully unnatural" language of Gallet's Communiqué N°10 lay in accurately decoding its raucous slang while preserving the air of non-naturalism encountered throughout. He was also struck by its disquieting parallels to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, a theme bound to resonate with American audiences.
One of the most interesting results of this still-untested festival is the response it's already received from the international community. A second Des Voix festival is already in the planning stages, and Playwrights Foundation has been approached by the consulates of several other countries for consideration of similar translation projects. If all goes well, it's heady to envision the Des Voix festival as a catalyst for a future in which San Francisco holds a reputation for being a flourishing center of contemporary theater translation, a vision that Mueller shares.
"This is just the beginning," she promises.
"DES VOIX ... FOUND IN TRANSLATION"
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