Live Arts Festival Blog- Michael Hollinger is one of Philly’s most successful playwrights. He has premiered seven plays at the Arden Theatre Company including Opus, Ghost-Writer, and Tooth and Claw. For his latest project, he has turned to translating a classic, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac, and adapting it (along with director Aaron Posner) for modern audiences and a leaner cast-size. Cyrano is currently running at the Arden Theatre through April 15. It premiered in 2011 at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC, and was recently honored with seven Helen Hayes Award nominations (DC-area Barrymores), including Outstanding Resident Play, Outstanding New Play, and Outstanding Direction of a Play. Just the other day I corresponded with Michael to ask about his approach to Cyrano, and to get a better understanding of the challenges of translating plays.
Live Arts: Why another translation of Cyrano? What has been missing?
Michael Hollinger: When I began this project, at Aaron Posner’s invitation, I didn’t think anything was missing in terms of previous English-language translations of the play. The two biggies—Brian Hooker’s prose version and Anthony Burgess’s rather ornate version in rhymed couplets—have held up well, and are frequently done. But when I read the play in French, I started to feel that Hooker’s prose version was, well, a little prosaic, and that Burgess’s rhymed version had over-embellished the play, focusing on its poetry at the expense of immediacy and actor-friendliness. Aaron’s initial impulse—a small-cast version, inspired I suppose from his many small-cast Shakespeare productions, which I have loved—suggested a conscious theatricality (with lots of doubling, direct address, and other devices) that differs from the original play; it also suggested to me that the language should be very immediate, rhythmic, and lively, and that its poeticism should feel more like slam poetry, with more interplay of sounds within and between lines than end rhymes, than the predictability of the 17th-century verse plays Rostand was emulating. Read more.