From Russia with John
Live (almost) from Russia, three Lark playwrights (Robert Askins, Rajiv Joseph, and Andrea Thome) report on their journey as they travel with Lark's Artistic Director, John Clinton Eisner, to Moscow to work on translations of their plays as part of The Lark's Russia/United States Playwright Exchange. First up, Rajiv Joseph, who has brought his play Guards at the Taj, as well as his director, Giovanna Sardelli, to collaborate with him on the project.
September 26, 2016
There's a weird sort of magic that happens when you find yourself in a room with a group of people who are passionately debating the finer points of your play in a language you cannot understand. Yesterday, on our first day of rehearsal, my translator, director and cast debated the use of the word "thing."
Babur, the guard at the Taj given to dreams & romantic inventions says of the Taj Mahal: "They say it will be the most beautiful thing in the world."
The use of "thing" in Russian was vexing for all involved, and so a debate ensued between all of us about possible replacements-- I explained the word couldn't be something so specific as "building" or "structure," because the Taj had to be all-encompassing-- a creation that, for Babur, represents all things (there's that word again) so that later, after he has behanded 20,000 men, he can appropriately blame himself for killing beauty. My jet-lagged mind can't recall right now what solution we arrived at, but I think it was to eliminate the noun altogether: "They say it will be the most beautiful... in the world."
Later, it was asked of me if "shit" could become "fuck" (no problem there) but this led to a quick discussion regarding the use of profanity on stage in Russia, which is that it is against the law. This was going to be a bigger issue for Robert Askins and his Hand to God crew in the room next door, but I was assured that, because the festival producing our Lark readings does not charge admission, we could scoot by the profanity ban.
It was Andrea Thome's birthday, so Evgeny, our fantastic host, arranged for us to take a dinner cruise down the Moscow river. We drank vodka and wine, and went up above, where we could watch the city drift by. That's another sort of magic-- seeing the Kremlin from the water, and feeling blessed that the Lark offers these sorts of adventures for playwrights.
I often compare my international work with the Lark to my Peace Corps experience, and I don't think I'm far off. Both are engagements in cultural exchange. And both, so often, revolve around people sitting around, struggling to communicate, but finding great satisfaction in that struggle. One feels the world becoming simultaneously larger and smaller with each passing sentence.
What a thing.