As a true Slovak, you have surely heard of Tajovský. As a true English speaker, you should most definitely see a performance of one of his plays translated into English. And I guarantee all you true students out there that if you see this performance, you will always remember Tajovský’s play Ženský zákon.
It all started when a few teachers – from all over the world – gathered in Slovakia at the beginning of January to express their love of theatre actively by creating Bridge ’n’ Drama, an English-language drama troupe. It took three weeks for five translators to transform the original Ženský zákon script written by Tajovský in 1900 into the English version, Tajovsky ruulezz! Yours truly was on hand for the premiere 7th June 2012 at Atelier Babylon.
You all – well, most of you perhaps – know about the complicated lives of Anička (Katarína Matiašovská, Slovakia) and Miško (Tomas Haramule, Canada) whose love faces problems arising from social status, prejudice, gossip, rumour, intrigue and infidelity. However, when I first saw the brochure advertising the play, I asked myself why in the world they had chosen this very play by Tajovský and how they could have possibly translated all the untranslatable words connected to Slovak culture and language as such. Well, they didn’t.
To make the characters typically Slovak and to emphasise the features of the original script, the translators decided not to translate some interjections. Each character has their own bringing laughter from the audience almost every time they are used. Miško’s fíha was a particular crowd-pleaser. “Fíha, are you sick or something?” he asks Auntie Zuza (Christina Vollbrecht, USA) when he arrives back from mandatory military service. Other typical interjections are jajže-bože for Mara, ľaľa for Jano (Donal Greene, Ireland) and ajhľa for Dora (Michaela Šuľáková, Slovakia). Not only do the interjections make the performance ‘more Slovak,’ but they also contribute to the usage of slang and colloquial language, sexual allusions and implied problems with alcoholism, which are all elements undeniably present in the works of most Slovak authors. For instance, Zuza makes the following comment about her problematic neighbour/friend, Mara: “Panenka skákavá, I won’t let her beat me again,” And Jano comments on Dora’s presence in his house this way: “Ľalaho, that bitch again.”
Bridge ’n’ Drama does not only bridge to the original culture and language; it also brings the story into the present. Tajovsky’s work carries a message which is still valid for today and the translators have truly adapted this classic work to satisfy the demands of today’s audience. Tajovský deals with topics which are interesting, applicable to us moderns, but funny at the same time. He is famous for his special sense of humour. His work is accessible to the educated as well as to those who like having fun and enjoying life to the fullest without any special thought for serious matters. His wisdom is subtle and, perhaps, even popular. Director Zuzana Bírešová herself said, “They [the Slovak actors] didn’t find some of his jokes and allusions funny, but by updating the scenes, making it more accessible and inserting some new elements and ideas, we managed to make it kind of our own. We found a joke or the kind of humour that suits all the actors and amuses them.” One of the “elements” and “ideas” used are asides in the action on stage so the audience can ‘hear’ a character explain, usually in a funny way, their opinions or thoughts. The action stops, the lights dim and a blue spotlight focuses on the speaker. In one case, it is Jano when finds out that Anička is going to be helping out in the kitchen at his house. Grinning, he tells the audience, “Finally, no more microwave goulash.” Other “elements” and “ideas” of the modern age are the use of mobile phones (instead of telegrams) and yoga as a stress reliever.
I am rather conservative in the matter of literature adaptations. I do not approve of embellishing the original deliberately and editing what has already been written. I think the original intention of the author should be maintained at all costs. That is, of course, only my opinion. So I asked the director about what I call “the changed notion of Slovak drama.” I was interested in her view on the exaggerated drinking scenes, explicit sex scenes and added modern elements. “I don’t think that we would somehow lower the Slovak nation’s reputation. Alcoholism, attitudes of people towards free relationships and cheating are the same everywhere in the world. It’s not just a Slovak standard or trend. It happens everywhere. And I truly hope that the young can identify themselves here – in this play. But what really is Slovak is a part of the costume of each character. We wanted to show the audience the original clothes and that’s why we really focused on costumes and made sure there was always an element typical of Slovak culture.”
There is undoubtedly a gap in the market for Slovak plays performed in English. I asked Anna Katarzyna Kolkowska, the Polish actress who played Mara, about the future of this newly-formed ensemble. “We do not plan anything officially, but we definitely won’t stop. We’ll talk about another performance soon [said with a smile].”
The road to acknowledgement as a great drama troupe is long and rough, but Bridge ’n’ Drama is already on that road. There are dozens of Slovak plays out there just waiting for the imagination and courage to be translated and performed. And that is what matters at this point: originality, creativity, persistence and determination to be involved.
Bridge ’n’ Drama has the motivation to inspire audiences, but perhaps primarily students. In their own words, made in a triple toast at the end of the play, I toast them: “To beautiful horses and fast girls!” “To yoga and borovička!” and (perhaps even better) “Na ex a na sex, may your enthusiasm roar a success!”
You can still catch performances of ‘Tajovsky ruulezz!’ around the country. Check their webpage at www.thebridge.sk for more information.
Text: Zuzana Rajčáková
Photos: Katarína Koreňová
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