Prometheus, the Beginning is Ramón Griffero’s penultimate work and the eleventh of his plays that I have translated. Griffero’s dramaturgy creates texts that are frequently open-ended, providing for multiple interpretations, and volcanic, in which new characters, themes, and directions surge from below in the midst of scenes, disrupting where we thought we were.
Griffero’s theatrical work is imbued with the aesthetic philosophy described in his book The Dramaturgy of Space where he posits that human society conceives of space primarily in terms of squares and rectangles, but those forms don’t occur naturally in the non-human environment. As both playwright and director Griffero incorporates the circle not the square. Both the dramatic structure of his plays and the mise en scène of his productions are highly layered, creating myriad strata as they return us to conceptual and aesthetic formulations that were present long before humans walked the earth and will be present long after we are gone.
For Griffero theatrical discourse is multi-layered and multivalent. Past, present, and future exist simultaneously, not as a linear progression. Ideas, dreams, and desires are actualized by scenic images that provide a visual counterpoint to the words that are spoken. Griffero takes this fluidity, this layering, and this circularity from the natural world and the translated play must maintain all three of these modes. Words, phrases, and theatrical gestures must all be chosen in translation with conscious and constant attention to how Griffero employs them in the mise en scène.
Like all of Griffero’s plays Prometheus, the Beginning employs poetic language, theatrical metaphor, and musicality. Where previous plays have included music as diverse as Pink Floyd, military music, and left-wing political folk songs, Prometheus is the first for which has written his own songs. This added yet another layer to the translation as I had to search for an English equivalent of the Chilean Spanish rhythm, pace, and tone. The playwright’s addition of a new dramaturgical element is a clear demonstration of the play’s thematic content. It is the work of every individual and each generation to sing its own song.
Adam Versényi is Chair and Professor of Dramaturgy in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina and Senior Dramaturg for PlayMakers Repertory Company. A theatre scholar, dramaturg, critic, translator, and director, he has written widely on Latin American theatre, U.S. Latino/a theatre, dramaturgy, theatre production, and theatrical translation. He is the founder and editor of The Mercurian: A Theatrical Translation Review. He has translated plays by Argentines Agustín Cuzzani and Griselda Gambaro, Mexican Sabina Berman, and is currently working on a translation of La dramaturgia del espacio, Griffero’s book of aesthetic theory.
In our thirteenth issue, we feature two innovative, hard-to-define figures of Latin American letters: from the present, Mexican writer Mario Bellatin, and from the past, Chilean writer Juan Emar. Together with these authors, we highlight Latin American theatre for the first time with a script by Ramón Griffero, Nahuatl-language poetry by Martín Tonalmeyotl, plus interviews, book reviews, exclusive previews, and more from writers including Rosario Castellanos, César Aira, and Salgado Maranhão.