ALTcom welcomes Brian Paul Scipione as a contributor to its coverage of live theatre in Austin. Scipione went to the Rude Mechs' Off Center on Friday night for the second performance of Breaking String Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya, but the failure of an Austin Energy transformer shut off power to the neighborhood just at curtain time. Nothing daunted, he returned for the Saturday performance.
by Brian Paul Scipione
The Tragedy of the Individual
“Why am I old?” shouts Uncle Vanya about mid-way through the play bearing his name. He doesn’t ask anyone in particular and he doesn’t expect an answer. It is a statement, a question, an interjection as well as a plea. Perhaps he’s speaking to himself, perhaps to his family and perhaps to God. He is forlorn, lost, meandering and, at best, seeking answers to questions he’s always wanted to ask.
Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya is as timeless as anything by Shakespeare or Homer and it is the latest venture of Austin’s own Breaking String theater troupe. The group led by Co-Producing Artistic Directors Liz Fisher, Robert Matney, Matt Radford, and Graham Schmidt, concentrates on Russian drama both classic and contemporary. They have already tackled Chekov’s The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard. Director Graham Schmidt crafted a new translation into English for each of the three.
Why re-translate works that have been translated many times before? Schmidt believes retranslating during the performance process lends a certain immediacy to the actor’s performance. “In this way, they feel they can take a new work approach to a classic play.”
Allow me to illustrate. An earlier translation contains the following line:
“This wonderful feeling of mine will be wasted and lost as a ray of sunlight is lost that falls into a dark chasm, and my life will go with it.”
In the Breaking String production, the same line is fired off with greater clarity and poignancy:
“My feelings are fading away like sunbeams into a pit.”
The emotive plea of the character rings out quickly and sharply, stripping away unnecessary diction and poetic prose.