So my thesis production for my final year of grad school is:
By Bertolt Brecht
(...translated by… ?)
Oh. I guess my work isn’t done, is it.
If only I’d chosen “The Seven Year Itch”*, I could have relaxed once it was put in the season. But no, I just had to propose a play originally written in another language!!! A classic blunder. Now I have to choose a translation! Fortunately, the list of translations, adaptations and “versions” (whatever that means) is minuscule for “Arturo Ui” compared to “Three Sisters” happening earlier in the semester (mad respect to director Dale McFadden for wading into that ocean of choices and emerging with my favorite, the Paul Schmidt), which means it’s possible for me to track down most if not all of the major versions and read them. AND SO I SHALL.
My research uncovered a handful of major productions, which gave me several names to start my list with. This mostly overlapped with the results on Amazon and other booksellers. The only recent production in the Philadelphia area (where I’m from) was a university production within the last decade (featuring a female performer as Ui, I wish I'd have made it down to see it), and I actually had to contact them directly to find out which they used, as they omitted any translator name from their archived promotional/press material. [Sidebar: can we talk about how frequently press releases, posters and websites omit the name of the translator? Rude, guys. Rude.]
Between the department’s generous assistance, inter-library loan and other sources, I got my hands on all the versions I knew about.
Now we must enter the Book BattleDome, a.k.a.:
The TRANSLATION ELIMINATION STATION!!!!
I decided that to be thorough, I’d go through a series of single-elimination challenges, where I’d read each pair of scripts side-by-side, jumping back and forth after approximately each speech or page. An illuminating exercise.
~I will delay reading the version I already know (the Manheim).
~I will compare the strength of the language overall, but won’t be swayed by individual lines.
ARE YOU READY? <<<(I dare you to leave this nonsense on while you read)
Tabori VS. Tabori/Beaton
I decided to read the two most similar versions first, figuring it would be easier to determine a winner.
GEORGE TABORI was born in Budapest, one of many Jewish writers forced into exile by the Third Reich, so he certainly has a connection to the material. He’s a playwright and a director as well as a translator, and even directed for the Berliner Ensemble late in life. An impressive pedigree. His translation was seen on Broadway in the 1960s, not once but twice! The first starred Christopher Plummer and was directed by Tony Richardson (with a total cast of 35!!!!!!), but closed after 5 previews and 8 performances. The second was performed in repertory as part of the Guthrie’s first tour: Edward Payson Call directed Robin Gammell in the title role, it opened without previews and ran for only 10 performances. I doubt the fault is entirely Tabori’s, as his version still gets done (including a 2002 limited run in New York starring Al Pacino) and Sam French still sells it. This is simply not a play for open-ended Broadway runs.
Bloomsbury Methuen Drama publishes a version with the following on the title page: “by Bertolt Brecht in a translation by George Tabori/revised by Alistair Beaton”. So not “adapted” but “revised” by Beaton. Intriguing. To me that choice of verb implies less mucking about. It premiered in 2012 at the Chichester Festival Theatre, transferring to the West End the following year, starring Henry Goodman. In March this version had a clown-influenced production in Chicago (drat, so much for claiming the Midwest Premiere).
ALISTAIR BEATON is a British playwright, screenwriter and novelist. This is not my first dose of Beaton: In 2011, Philly absurdism experts the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium produced Beaton’s translation of Max Frisch’s “The Arsonists” (a.k.a. “The Firebugs”), and I played protagonist/victim Gottlieb Biedermann.
The Tabori is the earliest English translation I can find (Brecht had it translated by one H.R. Hay shortly after writing, but it appears to have escaped publication). And at the time I started this process, the Tabori/Beaton was the most recent version available.
It’s the OG versus its own offspring...