Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review, Squared, February 19, 2013

Getting Lost in Translation
by Valerie Cardinal
This week, I’m going back to my hometown: Montreal. One of the most remarkable things about the city is its bilingualism. Coincidentally enough, this is also one of the most remarkable things about me! 
The fact that Montreal has flourishing theatre scenes in French and English leads to all sorts of interesting crossovers. Many publications post reviews of French theatre in English and vice-versa, which I find fascinating. Even The Charlebois Post occasionally gets in on that action. It’s interesting to see how a production is interpreted outside of the language of its performance. Even though I’m sure these reviewers are perfectly bilingual like me, do things still get lost in translation?
Take the following reviews of Still Standing You, for example. One is from the English-language The Rover, while the other is from French-language MonThéâtre.qc.ca. What’s more Montreal than two-man experimental theatre that makes people laugh through making them uncomfortable?

The first thing that surprised me is how both of these reviews use a similar structure.

Since this a movement-based piece, the meaning and intentions seem to have translated just as well in either language. Both the English-writing Lesley McCubbin and the French Véronique Voyer have similar opinions about the show overall. 
The first thing that surprised me is how both of these reviews use a similar structure. In their first paragraph, McCubbin and Voyer open with their inability to define the genre of the piece as well as its sense of humour. 
However, the focus varied slightly. In the second paragraph, both discuss how one performer delivers a lengthy monologue while perched atop the feet of the other. While McCubbin focuses on the monologue itself, Voyer zones in on the discomfort evident in the face of the man being used as a stool. This monologue is used a springboard into a description of the rest of the show.
I was surprised to find that even the sentences used to kick off the third paragraphs were oddly similar. McCubbin writes, “This sets the tone of what’s to come: a physical dialogue between two bad boys bent on pushing each other’s limits in a series of duets that run the gamut from sheer slapstick to dangerous physical behavior,” while Voyer opens with, “Ce point de départ donne le ton de la « binarité » violence-plaisir expérimentée par le duo.” Although said in different ways, both discuss the tone and the balance between fun and pain seen in Still Standing You. 
This brings me to another major difference between French and English. I keep getting asked why I don’t just move to Montreal and become a French scriptwriter. This frustrates me to no end, because my English-language education has left me inexperienced in the poetic tendencies of French. This sentence in particular had me swooning: “Si la chair refuse de se taire et crie d’une marque rouge là où le bât blesse, les deux hommes se font un devoir de rester stoïque face à la douleur.” I could never write a beautiful sentence like that!
English can be poetic, too, though, as shown by McCubbin’s alliteration-heavy closing line: “An unadorned, uproarious, uneasy exploration of strength, limits, trust and touch.” 
In a way, Still Standing You is the perfect show to use to compare the dynamic of French and English in Montreal; sometimes the whole language debate can feel like an uncomfortable, extended, often hilarious and ridiculous spitting contest. But in the end, this interaction of French and English can create beautiful things.

1 comment:

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.