Monday, October 1, 2012

Arts Fuse Review: A.B. Yehoshua's "Hand in Hand Together"

Sorry for the long silence on the blog. As you will see from the next couple of posts, I have been writing, just not here.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a review of Israeli playwright A.B. Yehoshua's Hand in Hand Together. The play was presented as a reading by Israeli Stage, whose founder and artistic director, Guy Ben-Aharon directed and provided the translation. The play told the tale of a series of 1934 meetings between Labor Zionist (and later Israeli Prime Minister) David Ben-Gurion and Revisionist Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

While some plays, when translated, become part of the canon of world drama. The experience of this play caused me to question the limits of theatre in translation, especially political theatre when transported from its native environment:

[...] the didactic nature of Hand in Hand Together is a potential obstacle towards a successful staging for a non-Israeli audience. It no doubt plays well when performed in the Knesset, where many elected officials see either one of the protagonist’s as their ideological forebears, or for an audience that is steeped in Israeli history. But to an American audience the distinctions between Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky may come off as a purely academic exercise.

This disconnect leads to an important question raised by theater in translation: how should one stage a play outside its home country? Will an American audience be riveted by two men debating about early twentieth-century Zionism? Should it be staged with a nod towards naturalism, or given the importance of its ideological and historical discussions, would the story be best brought to the stage with theatrical effects and puppets used in a Brechtian manner? Perhaps an explanatory dumb show as the heroes debate? Would that self-conscious approach improve the storytelling, or would it be seen as mocking the central conflict? When a play is performed outside of its native country, should the mode of theatrical presentation become another part of the translation?

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