Bringing German Theater to the World

My work as a translator of drama differs from that of my colleagues who translate prose and poetry: whereas their focus is on publication in books and journals, my primary aim is production by theaters in the United States, United Kingdom, and other English-speaking countries. In collaboration with my agent Antje Oegel (of German origin, now based in the United States), I establish and cultivate relationships with artistic directors and literary managers, informing them about contemporary German-language plays they might be interested in producing, and learning what kind of work best fits their mission. In choosing plays to translate, I have sought out scripts that are substantially different—in form, or content, or both—from the type of work routinely staged by English-language theaters, without being so far removed from English-speaking directors’ and audiences’ expectations as to risk being met with incomprehension or resistance.

The work of Lukas Bärfuss—a widely produced, award-winning writer, voted “Playwright of the Year” by the influential German magazine Theater heute in 2005—meets that standard especially well. Bärfuss has proven himself adept at writing plays that treat contentious topical issues in an insightful but admirably even-handed manner. His 2003 script The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents, for instance, was prompted by a Swiss law that permitted the state to sterilize the mentally handicapped. The play centers on Dora, a young woman with an unidentified mental impairment, and the results of her mother’s decision to stop medicating her; while Bärfuss depicts the behavior of the adults in Dora’s life as misguided, in some instances abusive, he makes it difficult for the viewer to condemn any of the characters outright.

My translation of that play was produced and published in London in 2007, and subsequently in New York and Glendale, CA. In The Test (2007), the topical situation depicted is that of a man who discovers through genetic testing that he is not the father of the little boy to whom he’s been a devoted parent. The Test has proven one of Bärfuss’ most successful plays, the premiere production in Munich having been followed by stagings at major theatres in Berlin, Vienna, Hannover, and elsewhere. I believe there is a good chance that theaters in the United States will also be interested in producing The Test.