Play On! Festival: The American Playwrights Who Translated Shakespeare

The Play On! Festival is presenting staged readings through June 30 of all 39 of William Shakespeare’s plays “translated” into “contemporary modern English” by 36 American playwrights. Their photographs are below, organized chronologically by the date when their plays are being presented at Classic Stage Company. (Click on each photograph to read the caption)
In my article for TDF Stages, How Do You Translate Shakespeare?, I talk to a couple of the playwrights, Migdalia Cruz (who picked both Richard III and Macbeth) and Hansol Jung (Romeo and Juliet), to find out what exactly they did, and to the woman who commissioned them, Lue Morgan Douthit. Her instructions to the playwrights and their dramaturges were: First, do no harm.  She wanted translations, not adaptations, keeping the time and place and making no cuts.  “I am not asking that they bring Shakespeare to them. I’m asking them to go to Shakespeare and work with him.” But as Cruz points out: “I think that Lue understood that she had to give us some space in order to be creative. Otherwise, what was the point of asking playwrights? Why not just use Shakespeare scholars?”

Taylor Mac

Not mentioned in the article (and not included in the photographs below): Taylor Mac has praised the project for “paying playwrights to research and learn from the Bard.” Mac was one of those commissioned to do a translation. Initially, Douthit recalls, “he asked to do one of the cross-dressing plays, and I said no, that’s too easy for you. I gave him Titus Andronicus.”  A few years later, he wrote Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, which is currently on Broadway. Mac is the only one of the playwrights who declined to permit his translation to be included in the festival. (Instead, Amy Freed’s translation of this early play was presented May 30, on the same day as her translation of Taming of the Shrew)

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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