The Absent One Shows Possibilities for Bilingual Theatre

Anytime I’ve seen a play that’s been translated from its original language to English, you wouldn’t know it was a translation. Sure, there might be the occasional foreign word that doesn’t translate well (or most Anglophones know what it means) but, for all intents and purposes, the script being foreign doesn’t play into the performance.

The Absent One, by Xavier Villaurrutia (a Mexican playwright) with dramaturgy, translation and adaptation by Stefano Muneroni, shows a play doesn’t need to lose its identity when it’s brought to an Anglophone stage. The Absent One is the story of the fallout after a husband, Pedro, (played by Doug Mertz), spends 20 days away from his wife in the company of another man. While the play is set in the 1930-40’s, it could take place in modern times as well, as it explores the discovery of one’s own sexual identity and the impact that exploration has on those around him – namely his wife (played by Michelle Rios) and lover (Francisco De Jesus Montaño).

Though the acting was wonderful, what stole the show for me was the seamless bilingualism of the dialogue. I don’t know any Spanish, so I was a little nervous when the play began with a three minute Spanish song, sung by Michelle Rios, as she wandered around her house, lamenting the loss of her husband. I was worried I had misinterpreted the play’s description and that it would all be in Spanish (which, admittedly, would be a cool experiment and incredible test of the actor’s abilities). However, the dialogue ended up being a beautiful mix of English and Spanish. The actors switched flawlessly (from what I could tell) back and forth between Spanish and English, and the dialogue was constructed in such a way that, even though I only know one of the languages, I was never confused about what was going on. Since Fernanda’s neighbour (Michele Brown) primarily served to empathize with Fernanda, her translation some of what Fernanda had said into English felt as though she was letting Fernanda know she understood, rather than telling the audience what was going on.

Even if you are like me and don’t speak any Spanish, go see The Absent One – it certainly opened my eyes as to the possibilities of foreign-language plays on Edmonton’s stages.

The Absent One plays again on August 29 at 4:30 pm and August 30 at 7:00 pm at the Timms Centre. The performances are both free. Check out  what else is going on at StageLab in my interview with Festival Producer, Priscilla Yakielashek, or see the festival schedule.

– Jenna Marynowski

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