Two one-act plays translated by students

By Raphael Satter

Students at University Theater (UT) have recently translated Anton Chekov’s Festivities and Fernando Arrabal’s Picnic on the Battlefield, from the original Russian and Spanish, respectively. The one-act plays will be performed together this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Although both plays already exist in translation, the directors chose to retranslate them. According to UT managing director Fay LaManna, some UT members felt that many English translations of Chekov’s plays were dry. “It’s a very comedic play and a lot of the translations lost some of the humor,” LaManna said.

Teddy Tolkin, a second-year in the College, is the director and translator of Festivities. According to Heidi Thompson, company manager of UT, “Teddy couldn’t find an English translation that she liked. She is just extremely ambitious, and she and her friends have a lot of knowledge of Russian and they wanted to translate it themselves.”

Matt Tievsky, a third-year in the College and the director of Picnic on the Battlefield, expressed similar concerns about Arrabal’s play. “I found two English translations of Picnic on the Battlefield, but they seemed kind of awkward; the English seemed archaic,” Tievsky said. Picnic was translated by Diana Aramburu and Greg Beam, both third-years in the College.

“Getting started was very difficult, a lot more difficult than we expected,” Beam said. “Neither of us had had any formal translating experience before, and had never really done any sort of dramatic adaptation before. I had done a lot of playwriting, but never an adaptation of this magnitude.”

Beam and Aramburu divided the labor, with Aramburu doing the raw translation and Beam looking over the text more closely and editing it as they went along. “Diana did the literal translation, and then handed it off to Greg,” Tievsky said. “He sort of massaged it and adjusted some of the language.”

“We tried to make it a little more faithful to Arrabal’s work. The translation that we have is noticeably different from the other English translations,” Tievsky said.

Some of the expressions used by Arrabal in Picnic on the Battlefield posed interesting translation problems. “There were some funny little things that were difficult to translate,” Beam explained. “For instance, one of the characters, Mr. Tepan, has an obsession with horses. The phrase in Spanish used to describe the horses translated literally as ‘big, round-bottomed horses,’ which may have been a little overly suggestive.”

“We ended up translating that as ‘robust,'” Beam said. “There were many such idiomatic expressions.”

Neither Tolkin nor Tievsky have any previous directing experience at the University level though they have both been involved in UT and directed in high school. Tievsky, who has been acting for UT for the past two years, decide he wanted a change this year. “I sort of wanted to take a break from acting,” he said.

Tievsky chose Picnic on the Battlefield for his Chicago directorial debut because he had previous experience directing the play in high school. “I was handed this play, and I took an immediate liking to it,” Tievsky said. “I felt I wanted to do it again, and make a higher-quality production. I had an interest in the idea of why do people who don’t know each other fight each other?”

The last time students translated their own plays was two years ago when UT performed an English version of Jean Anouileh’s Antigone, translated from the original French.

UT produces about 35 shows annually, selling 8,000 tickets and performing 100 nights of the year.