NEA Literature Fellowships

Daniel Brunet

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(2013 - Translation)

15. by Dea Loher

[translated from the German]


Absolutely's dressing room in the Blue Planet. Absolutely is sitting in front of the mirror, Elisio is on the other side of the mirror.

ABSOLUTELY Fadoul said, ok, I'll give you the money for the operation. The gold from the bag. The bag of god. He sent the gold to make you see. I said, maybe god didn't intentionally send the bag, maybe he unintentionally lost it and he'd really like to have it back. He's looking for it. Maybe the bag was meant for somebody else entirely, how can you know that. Maybe somebody else is going to be very unhappy without this bag. Fadoul said, if that was the case, god would have gotten in touch with us. It's a sign, a sign of a holy bus stop.

ELISIO I want the pictures to stop. For the shapes, figures, animals and people and colors to stop. I want the mirrors to stop. For the streams, the seas, the oceans, the ice, the glaciers, the rain puddles to stop. Then I could sit in a cell; in the unending night of my continent, in the darkness of a cell, blackness impenetrable like blackness. Pause. If it's day outside, you have to lift your head and stretch it up high where a thin piece of sheet metal, unreachably high, stamps white points out of the sun. Pause. Arrows of light in your eyes that intensify the pain of the darkness.

ABSOLUTELY I didn't think about it very long. I don't believe in the existence of god, not in signs, not in fate. I believe in science. And the force of will of human beings. There isn't anything more than that. Human beings took my eyes and human beings will give them back to me again. That's what I believe in.

ELISIO Gradually I could sense the walls that were holding together the blackness. The floor gave me peace, when I stretched out across it and closed my eyes, the night forcing out the night for a second, without power. And a wall gave me a spine, when I huddled against it with a light, very light movement, which perhaps imitated the wing of a bird in flight. Heat seeped into the blackness with a light buzz. Pause. And I began to scratch at a mud brick.

ABSOLUTELY And the heavens, the starry heavens above me which I have never seen, don't have anything to do with it. Pause. So I took the money, thanks Fadoul, I have no scruples. And then I invited Elisio and Fadoul to the Blue Planet, to dance for them.
One last time.

ELISIO I tried to dig more holes, with my hands, with a hand, with the fingers, with a finger, with the nails, with a nail of a finger, with a nail a nail a nail against the wet metallic mud wall scratched scraped scratched with a fingernail, until I dug my way into the light, until I gouged out a shaft of sunlight scratched out scraped out of the wall, and it grows into a glistening finger, the finger of light now grows beyond my prison wall, and it glistens, when I close my eyes, its image trembles, trembles behind my eyelids –
Long silence. I want the pictures to stop. For the shapes, figures, animals and people and colors to stop. I want the mirrors to stop. Ad infinitum

Excerpt in German

About Dea Loher

Dea Loher is Germany's most produced female contemporary playwright yet her work is all but unknown in the United States. Her importance within the often director-dominated German theatrical landscape is perhaps best summed up in the words of Ulrich Weinzierl, as he wrote in his review of Diebe in Die Welt in 2011: "Loher is no longer simply the hope of the contemporary German-language theater, she now belongs amongst its protagonists. This is thanks to her masterful handling of themes and subjects and genuine dramatic tools. She finds her strength in a poetic, ambiguous language which allows situations both to come to a head while also leaving space for silences. It opens the gates to the infinite space of the recurring questions which she deems to be eternal: Where did we come from, who are we and where are we going?"

Daniel Brunet, is a theater maker and translator, and is the producing artistic director of English Theatre Berlin. After studying theater and film at Boston College, he moved to Berlin with the support of a Fulbright Scholarship in 2001. He became the 2003 director in residence at English Theatre Berlin and founded THE LAB, a new work series. His directorial work has been seen throughout Germany and the United States, including the Forum Freies Theater Düsseldorf; the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and Performance Space 122, New York. He has translated 18 German plays in the last nine years, including those of Roland Schimmelpfennig, Heiner Müller, Ferdinand Bruckner, and Moritz Rinke. These translations have been performed around the world. Brunet is also the translator of the 2006 remake of Michael Haneke's film Funny Games.He received a 2010 Pen/Heim Translation Fund grant for his translation of Dea Loher's The Last Fire. His translations and essays have been published in PEN America, The Mercurian, Asymptote, Theater, and TheatreForum.

Photo by Tomas Spencer

Translator's Statement

As I sit down to translate a play, I feel as though I am about to attempt something very strange, nearly impossible and yet artistically thrilling, like painting a song or sculpting water. By this point, I have been living with the German script for weeks, reading and rereading it, discovering how the playwright has elected to work with language and becoming acquainted with the world and characters of their play. My first linguistic strokes are tentative, careful to leave myself enough space for the necessary finesse on later passes through the play. A sentence or phrase will occupy my consciousness for weeks, being turned over and over again as possible translations are examined and rejected, seeking just the right nuance and tone. I find the very concept of translation enthralling; the notion that ideas, idioms, the use of language itself can somehow be communicated, transposed, even transmuted between languages. I relish the challenge inherent in finding the proper tone and style for each individual play and playwright I translate, in identifying the lens through which the writer sees the world. The tension between the familiar and the strange, between the domestic and the foreign that comes sharply into focus through the act of translation is thrilling, the realization of how much two different cultures have in common yet how distinct they are in expressing it is profound.

Contemporary German drama fascinates me. Often written in styles radically different from their contemporary U.S. counterparts, these plays are immediate, visceral, and striking in their use of language and their understanding of what theater is and can be. They frequently champion a postdramatic style of theater which challenges traditional notions of what a play is, travelling far afield from the naturalistic, well-made plays still most prevalent in the United States. It's a trip well worth taking.