Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I do...but it's tricky language

It doesn’t help
Talking about it
It’s just words
Nobody believes in them
I don’t either
--from Fucking Parasites by Ninna Tersman

I was at my fourth real rehearsal for Fucking Parasites last night, and enjoyed one of those moments that reminds you why you love your job.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I really like words. I like saying and hearing and writing and reading them and making them up. In my theatrical endeavours, I'm a text-first kind of guy. I don't necessarily mean that I'm a capable memorizer...oh no. Wherever I am in the production roster, though, I've always got an eye on the page and nothing annoys me more than when actors think that part of their artistic prerogative involves judicious rewrites of their lines. That's not true, I guess: the thing that annoys me more is when I see a performance with absolute textual gems completely neglected by actors and the directors whose job it is to catch those things.

The hard work as a director is to make the actors love the words as much as they deserve. I've certainly seen people overdo it: it's not impossible to so elevate the script as to remove the dialogue entirely from the world of the play. In Fucking Parasites, the characters are fifteen and sixteen, from different countries, speaking to each other in a language that is not natural to either of them. Their communication is challenging enough without adding extra layers of poetic theory to the mix, right?

I'm not so sure. Ninna Tersman's play is so rich, and the words so perfect, that I don't want a single one of them to be taken for granted. I didn't know how to present this without adding undue pressure to my hard-working cast until I had a light bulb moment just before rehearsal ended.

Riso, who's playing Behrouz, speaks Japanese fluent Japanese. Olivia, playing Irina, speaks French. I picked about four or five words spoken by the teenage characters and I asked (paraphrasing a lot):

"'Incongruent', 'Embellishing', 'Contradictory', 'Embroidering', 'Endeavouring' many of those words can you translate into another language?"

They both hesitated.

"How comfortable would you be tanslating a legal brief or document from one language to another?"

The both asserted that they would not be.

"How much, then, can we infer about two teenagers who have already lived lives that warrant a legalistic, bureacratic vocabulary in at least one foreign language? When an Iranian kid and a Uyghur kid say words like "incongruent" to each other--in English!--and they understand each other, how heart-breakingly efficient is the story those words convey?"

From the expressions on their faces and the speed with which both of them were writing notes, I think I must have been on the right track.