Words Fail Them

A couple, lost in back-translation, they talk pretty one day

Warning: Copy editors, schoolmarms, and anyone particularly punctilious about subject-verb agreement should not attend Madelyn Kent's Peninsula. This spare drama, which Kent wrote in her not-quite-fluent Spanish and had translated—errors and all—back into English, contains enough slipups to horrify any grammarian. Happily, plays do not rise or fall by consistent verb tense and the proper use of articles alone. Kent's script, which she also directs, uses linguistic missteps to considerable dramatic effect, creating a verbal and emotional landscape slightly, but hauntingly, estranged from our own.

In an unnamed country, one seemingly plagued by a totalitarian regime, a husband and wife (David Chandler and Marielle Heller) make conversation while in the background, almost inaudibly, bombs explode. In an attempt to entice him, she announces, "I am going to put the thing with the rubber on you." "You are like a schoolgirl," he tells her. "Not, I am not," she disagrees. "It's not. I am not ashameds. Ashamed." Indeed she isn't much like a schoolgirl. She spends her afternoons seducing shopkeepers. Her husband has secrets as well. Though an important figure in the government, he wants to rejoin the radical group of his student days.

Kent's trouble with the Spanish language limits her and her characters to short, declarative sentences. Unexpectedly, this Sartre-fies the script a bit, lending ominous, existentialist tones to simple statements and requests. It also results in some surprisingly poetic cadences, as when the husband tells his erstwhile friend, tenderly, "Your linen is yellow and also your hands, your teeth of tobacco." There's estrangement here (peninsulas are, after all, mostly cut off from land) and not a little obscurity, but this purposeful inarticulacy has its own considerable rewards.

 
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