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Lost–and found–in translation

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Which is why associate professor of theatre Antonio Ocampo-Guzman didn’t think twice about doing his own translation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba, which opens Tuesday night at the Studio Theatre in the Curry Student Center.

Ocampo-Guzman, who is directing the Northeastern production, has had a lifelong love of Lorca’s work. When he directed his first Lorca play, Blood Wedding, at Northeastern in 2010, none of the English translations of the Spanish playwright’s work really spoke to him.

“The thing about translation is if you translate this text literally to make the anecdote understandable you lose some of the roughness of the Spanish language or the idiomatic uses of the language,” Ocampo-Guzman explained. “Most translations are done in order to read a play, not to perform it.”

Punctuation makes the text live in the land of should, which is the worst land for an actor to live in. We need to live in the land of would or the land of will.
— Antonio Ocampo-Guzman

So in a first for him, Ocampo-Guzman did his own translation of Blood Wedding in 2010 and translated The House of Bernarda Alba this past summer. “It was a really deep experience personally as a bilingual artist, he said. “It brought my two worlds, my two languages, my two cultures together.”

One very noticeable omission from Ocampo-Guzman’s translation is punctuation. In none of the scripts will you find a period, exclamation point, question mark, or comma.

“Punctuation makes the text live in the land of should, which is the worst land for an actor to live in,” Ocampo-Guzman noted. “We need to live in the land of would or the land of will. Getting rid of punctuation frees the actors up, not just in terms of interpretation but more importantly in terms of the invention of the language they are speaking.”

Stage manager Pablo Hernandez Basulto, AMD’18, says Ocampo-Guzman’s translation gives the performers more space for discovery.

“It allows for the voice of each actor to come into the room, and not exactly portray Lorca’s ideas but rather make them their own,” Hernandez Basulto said.

The House of Bernarda Alba is a story about a widow who exerts strict control over her five daughters after her second husband dies. The play was first performed in 1945, and was the last play Lorca wrote before his assassination in 1936.

“Feminism is a huge part of this play, and for me with the recent focus on how feminism is evolving and trying to take the taboo off the word, that is interesting for me,” said Barbara Edmonds, AMD’18, who plays Bernarda Alba.

Something else audiences will notice about The House of Bernarda Alba is there are no male roles. “I like that it is all women for this play specifically because it is about, in a modern way, feminism set in the time of the play,” added Edmonds. “It is about the repression of women and different societal norms between the genders.”

The House of Bernarda Alba opens Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Studio Theatre in the Curry Student Center. The show will run through Oct. 31. Tickets are available through the Northeastern University ticket office, myNEU, or at the Studio Theatre box office.

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