October Reading – The Language of Mermaids (El Lenguaje de las Sirenas, 2013)

Mariana de Althaus is s a leading contemporary Peruvian playwright. Her work includes plays such as Ruido (Noise) and El Sistema Solar (The Solar System) as well as testimonial theatre pieces, the most recent being Pájaros en Llamas  (Birds on Fire), a dramatized chronicle of the two most important aviation disasters in Peru.

In The Language of Mermaids (El Lenguaje de las Sirenas, 2013), a family ignore meteorological warnings about an impending tsunami by gathering for drinks on the beach.The sea is raging. Suddenly, a huge wave washes up a mermaid. She speaks in Quechua, a language they don’t understand.

EL LENGUAJE DE LAS SIRENAS de Mariana de Althaus es una montaña rusa: es una aventura en la selva de nuestra sociedad, es una fantasía delirante pero verosímil, es una arenga política, es un poema exquisito, es una maravillosa obra de teatro.(Alonso Alegría, Peruvian playwright)

I am really grateful that I could take part in the reading of the play, The Language of Mermaids last Friday. First of all, because I am a big fan of the play, ever since I saw it in Peru some years ago. Even then, I thought it was a really great piece. It talked to me in very different ways because the family it portrays looks a lot like mine and like other families I know. And also because racism is a really big issue in Peru. I think right now it’s our big problem as a nation.

So you can imagine what rediscovering it, what hearing the same exact words I heard some years ago but in other language meant to me. Listening to my nation’s problem with other words opened a whole new perspective in me. I know now that translating a play is not only changing a word in Spanish to a word in English. It’s trying to understand a whole new concept, a different way of thinking and to put it in a different perspective. How can you talk about racism in Peruvian when using a word like “cholo” without losing the meaning it has for us?

Now that I have understood the play from another perspective, now that I have looked at it from a different language, I think I am a little closer to discovering the real meaning of the piece. My concept of the play is now totally different than the one I had some days ago. I understand a little better each character but also, I think I am much more capable of taking the play to a whole new place, a place I didn’t know it could take me to before this reading.

So for all of this, I say thank you to Mary Ann, Sergio, Chusi and everyone who took part in that beautiful reading at Kings.

Jorge Robinet Benites, current MA student at LAMDA