Delia: "Por el tu'nel del Metro?"
Doris: "No . . . another tunnel, not the Metro."
Dirceu: "Voce tambe'm, um tu'nel?"
These lines from a new, experimental one-act play, "Probar de Nuevo" by Carlos Ban ales Jr., a local writer and journalist with many years of experience in Latin American affairs, indicate its challenging difference -- the play is performed in Spanish, English and Portuguese simultaneously.
The idea, as suggested by director Mario Traverso, was to develop an adaptation of Sartre's "No Exit," set in Washington and performed in three languages. That's where I came in.
Last summer the author asked me to translate from Spanish into English one of the parts in the play. Note, I said one of the parts. Although each character speaks only in his or her own language, each understands what the other two are saying. The Portuguese translation for another role was done by Francisco Pereira, a translator at the Inter-American Development Bank, who also plays the Brazilian character, Dirceu.
The play revolves around three individuals who have been in a Metro crash -- thus the reference to the Metro tunnel in the lines quoted above. "Tienen tan pocos accidentes they have very few accidents !" says Delia, an ardent defender of the train system. She is a maid in prominent Washington households and speaks no English, taking her instructions from her employers in frustrating hand gestures. Dirceu is a waiter in a Georgetown restaurant, who desperately wants to speak English so he can "make it" with an American. The American, Doris, is a brash young lady from Iowa working as a secretary in a law firm, whose elegant mien conceals her after-hours avocation. A mute waiter ushers the three into an unknown world -- heaven? hell? purgatory? -- defined by three seats, a door and a bell.
The task I accepted was to produce an English script allowing for the interplay of words in all three languages, yet still carrying forward the plot and defining my character, Doris. For example, at one point Doris refers in English to "The Divine Comedy," which is immediately followed by a comment from Delia in Spanish about "comedias divinas," a reference to television sitcoms. It took me quite a while -- and a good many drafts -- to drop the more formal English favored in translating nonfiction and to use common, everyday language. My first reaction was chagrin at its seeming banality, but then I remembered Willy Loman's opening lines in "Death of a Salesman": "It's all right. I came back." A simple and valid representation of life.
When it came time to attend rehearsals, I had an unexpected reaction. Beyond the jolt at first hearing spoken the words I had written and then conquering my need to tinker with the language every minute, I found the English stiff and curt, whereas the Spanish and Portuguese seemed fluid, expressive. I must attribute this to the same reason an opera sung in Italian sounds more melodic to us than the same work in English. It is in the nature of each language to impose its character on the speaker, just as the speaker adapts and shapes language to fit his or her personality.
Ultimately, the play is the child not only of the author, but also of the director and the actors. ARTE -- Agrupacio'n Repertorio Teatral en Espan ol -- the theater group that mounted this trilingual production, operates under the auspices of the Staff Association of the Inter-American Development Bank. The director, most of the members of the cast, the set designer and the lighting and makeup artists are, with one exception, also employes of the Bank.
In the best theater tradition, "Probar de Nuevo" was open to the public during its run last week at the Andres Bello Auditorium of the Inter-American Development Bank, and free of charge. The communication barrier will be crossed again next Tuesday at 1 p.m.