Et Voila Theatre

Translation Included

November 1, 2014 — Et Voila Theatre’s performance of ‘Bal-Trap’ at Frenetic tonight was amateur French theater. By that, I don’t mean ‘It wasn’t professional theater’. I don’t mean to say that professional theater is good and amateur is less than that. I mean that I got the impression that the people involved really love theater art and were putting on a play in spite of not being paid, not having the luxury of time or extensive experience to draw upon to make things perfect. Speaking of perfect, the opening of the show from the time the audience started to come in, through much of the play had a live guitarist playing gently under an impressionistic tent of Christmas lights and under a nice down light that made him look WAY upstage in this not-very-large theater space. The continuity of the brilliant simplicity of the look of the guitarist playing softly upstage for much of the play and the ending of the play with a down light on the prone actress was not missed by me. It was a play in FRENCH. How often do we get to see live plays in French here in Houston? There was even a translation screen well-placed above the stage for people who wanted to see English words. All that being said, it was still Community Theater featuring some first-timers. The translation screen meant that I wouldn’t be watching the play gleaning meaning from the emotional reality of what the characters were doing onstage, not so much because they were depending upon the screen to give meaning to nonnative French speakers, but because they had made the decision to play some of the scenes to the fourth wall, maybe because the emotional reality of two lovers getting together and two lovers breaking up is hard to find when you’re playing the words. For the most part, it seemed to me, they were ‘playing the words’, that step in the process somewhere near ‘memorizing the lines’. Yes, you have to honor the playwright by finding the play in the words, often before you find the characters or the emotional truth. They played the words, which means they delivered the many good potty and pussy jokes with aplomb and good timing. I didn’t know that ‘chat’ could be applied to ‘pussy’ as well as to ‘cat’. I, maybe, thought they’d have to say ‘young cat’ or something, knowing that French is often very specific. The little joke of that former statement lets me air one of my pet peeves about translation. As someone who thinks that acquiring more language skills is always a good thing, I find it troublesome that, many times and this time, translations decide to give idiom in the translation to try to match the idiom of the language translated. That way, though, one doesn’t get the little words, literally, to understand in the translation. It seems that in dramatic translation, the actors will be saying the words in a way that even foreign idiom can be understood and folks who cling to words can still see literally translation on the screen. Another problem with limited time and resources is you have to settle, sometimes. The translation came from another venue’s presentation of the play. There, on the screen, are the words “she is short and stout” for the actress you’ve cast who is short and skinny, but because you’re stuck with someone else’s translation and, maybe because you’re playing the words the playwright wrote, every one of them, you’re stuck with inconsistencies more substantial than word to word translation. The choice to play some of the monologues in the dialog structure of the play to the audience may be because it is difficult to deal with intimacy in Community or College Theater. I remember going to scene-work days during the seventies and being able to see the changes from one week to another in the intimacy portrayed on the stage by student actors because they had been experimenting with personal intimacy to see how it would translate for their scenes about marriage or love. I could just plain TELL when they had crossed over to being real lovers, even though the blocking was still the same as the week before. Acting for amateur theater is interesting in that one still has to justify preparatory ‘scene-work’ to colleagues and spouses without the ‘excuse’ that one is ‘professional’. How many marriages and relationships have I seen distorted or destroyed by community theater actors trying to figure out how to portray intimacy on the stage or using the play as an excuse to make things real? Acting is different from reality. One wouldn’t make one’s community theater actor, or professional theater actor, for that matter, really inject heroin on the stage so that the audience can see the pupils of the actor’s eyes contract when the ‘junkie’ character ‘shoots up’. One would be criticized, justly, for risking having a non-smoking actor become addicted, because the ‘smoke looks cool’ or the ‘glow’ is mentioned in the lines of the play. The reality of smoke might even make allergic audience members physically sick in reality. When someone dies on the stage, I don’t want to go ‘Ancient Roman’ real.  That isn’t acting, to me.  It’s living and dieing.  When I see plays about heroin, I hope that they have found a way to make the transition from ‘jonesing’ to ‘high’ in a way that makes me think I see the effect of the drug without the reality of the drug.  When I have to see smoking actors, it’s not about the seeing the cigarettes, to me, but understanding why the cigarettes were important to see.  When I see plays about love I hope to see what feels and looks and seems and smells like divorce or love on the stage…. well, …. ‘Smells’ in a pheromonal sense, not so much in a ‘smoking allergy’ or ‘pussy cat dander allergy-tempting’ sense or a smoking pussy sense.