'Truth in Translation' tells of South Africa's healing
September 07, 2007
By Lawson Taitte
Most of us know little about the national reconciliation process promoted by the government of South Africa a decade ago. If the sn Translation are any measure, it would behoove us to learn.
Imported by the Embrey Family Foundation for a three-day stand at Southern Methodist University that begins an American tour, Truth in Translation was created in South Africa last year and was a hit at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s a co-production of New York’s Colonnades Theatre Lab and South Africa’s Market Theatre.
At Thursday’s American premiere, the superb quality of stage and musical performance was obvious from the beginning. As conceived and directed by Michael Lessac, the great historical events are recounted indirectly. In real life, people in South Africa were invited to tell the stories of the horrors that happened to them in the age of apartheid - and of the deeds they themselves perpetrated. If they told the truth, they would receive amnesty.
During that process, the stories received simultaneous translation into the nine official languages of South Africa. It is through those translators that the audience of Truth in Translation hears the events. Eight actors portray the interpreters of various races and backgrounds. They’re instructed not to get involved emotionally in the often horrendous stories they’re relating. But they do get involved - both with the events they recount and with each other.
Andrew Buckland plays a TV journalist - similarly torn between objectivity and emotion. Baby Cele and Jeroen Kranenburg play the other characters - witnesses, family members, a bartender and a government employee whose job is to comfort those telling their stories.
Truth in Translation depends heavily on the original score by Hugh Masekela. At first the songs - sometimes surprisingly jaunty in effect - seem almost an intrusion. But as the story progresses, the music becomes more emotionally involving. The score thus reinforces the play’s emotional arc. At first it keeps its distance, as the translators are supposed to. As they give in to their feelings, so do the songs.
Perhaps deliberately, Truth in Translation doesn’t pull its audience into the grip of the tragic stories it recounts. But atories in Truth is an advertisement for national reconciliation and mutual forgiveness, it couldn’t be better.