fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

All the Galaxy's a Stage

Last night was the Washington Shakespeare Company's fundraiser, By Any Other Name: Shakespeare in the Original Klingon. This is a theatre company that has staged a nude production of the Scottish play, so doing something strange to get attention is not exactly a new thing for them. But, actually, there's a more direct link from WSC to Klingon. Their board president, Marc Okrand, is the linguist who developed the Klingon language, starting with Star Trek III: The Wrath of Khan. (There were a few lines of Klingon in the first movie, but James Doohan made up gibberish, without a linguistic structure.)

I'm not really a huge Star Trek fan, having pretty much ignored everything after the original series and the first couple of movies. (I did go to one Star Trek convention, back when I was in high school. But I also went to a John Denver concert back when I was in high school. Let's just say my tastes have changed.) Nor am I a big Shakespeare fan. I appreciate his role in English literature and it's not like I actively avoid Shakespeare plays, but I tend to spend my entertainment money primarily on musicals.

So why did I go to this event? It struck me as something that would get a lot of buzz and was strange enough to be amusing. One of my friends asked me if I understood Klingon. My reply was that I don't understand Shakespeare in English either. I was still reassured that they were doing the scenes in both languages.

The evening started with a few speeches from the theatre leadership, followed by Marc Okrand talking about Klingon. He was entertaining, particularly in his descriptions of how the language changed as a result of mistakes the actors made. (That became harder to do after he published a Klingon dictionary.) He also mentioned the joke that was really behind the whole evening. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a character quotes Hamlet. Spock identifies the quote and a Klingon chancellor says, "you have not really experienced Shakespeare until you've read him in the original Klingon." So part of the premise of the performance was that the English was mistranslated.

The first scene was from Hamlet - the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. The Klingon cast did part of the scene, followed by the English cast doing the same part of the scene, until they were interrupted by a Klingon actor pointing out the "mistranslation." This would have worked better for me if it were more fully staged, with costumes and swords. As it was, it looked and felt amateurish - silliness for the sake of silliness. And why did the Klingon Gertrude suddenly speak in English in her final lines?

The second scene, from Much Ado About Nothing worked better for me and was, I thought, the best of the evening. The scene between Benedick and Beatrice, which ends with her asking him to kill Claudio, was done first in English - with men playing both roles. Jay Hardee mugged it up nicely as Beatrice. The scene was then repeated in Klingon, with translators doing the translation of each line into English after it was spoken. The differences in the languages were highlighted well this way and the humor of the concept was effective.

The final scene was from Julius Caesar and involved a soliloquy by Cassius, done first in Klingon, then in English. The real appeal of this was that the English version was performed by George Takei (Sulu from the original series, if anybody doesn't know). He has a strong voice (and classical training - he studied at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon) and did a fine job.

The evening ended with a Q&A. (Well, if you paid another hundred bucks, there was an after-party at the Hotel Palomar. I didn't attend that.) The only question I'll bother to mention is one to Marc Okrand. When asked if there are jokes in Klingon, he told the punchline of one. Exactly two people in the audience laughed.

All in all, I'd say they did a good job of making the excerpts tolerable to people who don't understand Klingon, but this was still just a publicity stunt at heart. It was effective at that - bringing in more than 65% of the revenue that they got from ticket sales last season and getting mention in all of the local media. It was also filmed by the BBC for a series on language, by the way, so you may get the opportunity to see at least part of it.

The ticket came with a pass for the season (4 tickets for their other shows), by the way, so it will also help in audience development. Overall, I suppose that means it was a success.
Tags: languages, theatre

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