Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Asolo Speaks Two Languages

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Asolo Speaks Two Languages

Article excerpt

I really need to start learning Spanish, before it becomes a necessity. And it almost was a week ago as I watched the Spanish performance of "Hamlet, Prince of Cuba," at Asolo Repertory Theatre.

I had already seen the production twice in English, as adapted from Shakespeare by director Michael Donald Edwards, so I was familiar with the cuts and trims he applied, and the way the play was staged.

But without understanding Spanish, I couldn't fully appreciate the Spanish version by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, or enjoy it the way the Spanish speakers in the audience obviously did.

It was a bit like watching an opera sung in a foreign language. I could see and hear the beauty of aspects of the production and the lyrical musicality of the Spanish words and speeches, even though I didn't grasp the full meaning of what was being said without looking at the English surtitles flashed on a curtain high above the stage.

There were a lot of Spanish speakers in the audience that night and they were laughing quite a bit at a play that most of us think of as a heavy drama. Who knew it was so funny, filled with humorous lines, puns and word play?

At a panel discussion on bilingual theater, Edwards pointed out that "Shakespeare had a brilliant sense of humor" and "every other line of Hamlet's is a joke."

But apparently we English speakers think so reverently about Shakespeare or "Hamlet" specifically, that we can't hear the humor. Or maybe we're just so ill-equipped to truly understand Shakespeare's use of language that we don't understand the jokes even when we hear them.

At the first of two public performances of the Spanish version, you would have thought this traditional tragedy was more of a comedy. And, by keeping an eye on the English translations whizzing by (too fast, at times) I found myself laughing at things that hadn't seemed funny the first two times I'd watched the production unfold.

Was it Cruz's translation, some inflection that changed the nature of the lines, or the way the actors were speaking that brought out the comedy? …

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