Translation and imagination, from Fernando Mendez

When I was asked by 1812 Production to translate I Will Not Go Gently in the Spring of 2016, I thought it would be a great challenge and a way to contribute to the arts. My lovely wife Ellen Hutton had joined the Board of 1812 and, besides her energy, knowledge of the theater, and enthusiasm for the mission of 1812, she apparently considered my translation skills to be one of her big contributions to the company. I accepted, and got lost in Jen Child’s fictional characterfor 11 days, translating 18,630 words. I think translation is an art, and I have often cited Gregorio Rabassa’s translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude, as a great masterpiece of translation. He wrote a book about translations If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents. He wrote that the translator is a “welI-meaning but hapless boob,”  a judgment that would make any would be translator withdraw from the trade. He passed away in 2016. I admire Rabassa’s ability to go beyond the mere text to leave the readers with the sensation that we are reading the original words and capturing the world created by the author. A good translation should feel genuine, normal, as approachable as the original.  I hope to have many other opportunities to contribute my grain of sand to the arts.

Tyler Melchior, 1812 Productions Marketing and Public Relations Director, asked me to do the translation of Buyer & Cellar a story by Jonathan Tolins, and I accepted immediately. I learned that Dito van Reigesberg was doing the one man show. I saw him in other productions and admire his talent. As usual I had no idea what I was agreeing to do, but I cannot say no to Tyler, who is very persuasive and always kind in his recognition of my meager contributions. This time I translated nearly 16,000 words in the span of two weeks and did not keep track of the time, but it didn’t feel hectic. It was possible to imagine the characters but difficult to imagine one actor holding all those words in his head. The reviews have been unanimously positive expressing astonishment at Dito’s ability to go from one character to the next with a mere gesture or change in voice.

I had not had the pleasure of meeting Dito in person. The opening night celebration took place at Lou Bird’s on 20th and Lombard Street and some audience members were joined by the staff of 1812 Productions plus Dito. My wife and I approached the actor with some hesitation, only to find out he is uniquely unassuming and extremely charming. As soon as I said my name, he said we have the same name. His name is indeed Fernando but he took the final four letters of the Spanish diminutive, Fernan-dito to come up with his name, and we exchanged a few sentences in Spanish. He seemed fluent, and I told him he could do the whole show in Spanish. He laughed, and said he didn’t think that would happen. In the meantime the excellent reviews of his performance continue. He has said in interviews that he loves Philly because he finds it more livable and he has found a great audience here. Well, it is because of him and other fine actors that we go to the theater. Do not miss this play, and if you speak Spanish come join us for this performance on Wednesday October 18th. Jen Childs endeavors to reach out to the Hispanic community with these presentations in Spanish.  1812 Productions in collaboration with Congress de Latinos Unidos has agreed to donate the proceeds of that night to a fund for Puerto Rico’s recovery.  You can read more about this initiative here.

 Fernando Mendez with Jennifer Childs.

Fernando Mendez with Jennifer Childs.