Ready or Not (here I come): Translating Playfulness in ‘Punto y Coma’ by Estela Golovchenko

By Sophie Stevens

Women in Translation Month 2020

Ready or Not (Punto y coma, 2003) by Uruguayan dramatist Estela Golovchenko was a play that I worked on and translated as part of my PhD research. It instantly captivated my imagination and sparked my curiosity because I felt that the voices and the conflict presented were so compelling. In 2017, it was presented as a rehearsed reading at the Out of the Wings Festival at the Cervantes Theatre in London, directed by Camila González. The rehearsal process and reading created a fantastic opportunity to develop the translation and to see how it would change when different voices began to speak the words in the context of London in 2017. Ready or Not tells the story of a young woman who is separated from both of her parents during the civic-military dictatorship in Uruguay (1973-1985). The play depicts an intense ‘reunion’ with her political-activist-turned-Senator father in the present day: ultimately the audience is left to decide if their meeting is a moment of reconciliation or not. Their discussions raise questions about generational differences, memory and the pressure of political radicalism, all of which felt relevant to today’s political context. Golovchenko weaves a series of flashbacks into the dramatic narrative of the play. They depict the young woman in hiding with her mother during the political conflict which ultimately results in the mother’s disappearance.

One of the things that attracted me to this piece was that, despite the seriousness of the topic, play and games were used to tell this story: the time spent in hiding is framed as a game of hide and seek, the daughter remembers her father through the games that they used to play together, she uses a Ouija board to try to connect with her mother, and a childhood game to make wishes come true surprisingly connects the young woman to her father’s assistant (to whom she takes an instant dislike). It is the prominence of games that informed my choice for the title: when the mother flees in an attempt to be one step ahead of the soldiers who are coming to interrogate her, leaving her daughter in the care of her grandmother, the scene is depicted as game of hide of seek. The mother reassures her daughter that she shouldn’t try too hard to find her because she will always be somewhere nearby watching her. When the young girl has counted to one hundred, she calls out a rhyme in Spanish, which includes the words ‘punto y coma’, to warn those who are hiding to be quiet and those who have not yet hidden that they are in trouble because she is coming to get them. This is similar to the English, ‘ready or not, here I come’ called as the finder begins to seek out the other players and this is why I chose the title Ready or Not for my English translation and not semicolon (also English for punto y coma).

Rehearsing ‘Ready or Not’. L to R: Lucy Phelps, Kate Eaton, Elliot Bornemann, Dermot Canavan, Camila González.

There is also a structural playfulness in Ready or Not: often a question asked in a scene which is a flashback is then answered in the next one set in the present day. This means that the transitions between the flashbacks and the Senator’s office are facilitated through the language of the play and this helps to unite the action taking place at two different times. For the reading, director Camila González created two clearly defined spaces: one upstage for the hiding place and one downstage for the office. As the young woman moved between the two spaces, sometimes the questions that she posed in the past, which remained unanswered, echoed throughout the whole next scene. This helped the audience to understand how the recent past in Uruguay continues to have an impact on the present. The dialogue created across two different times but also across two different generations provoked broader questions about how we understand the choices of others in the face of oppression and hold previous generations to account. At the same time, the play provided a moving insight into how we can seek to understand previous generations as fallible. The character of the mother never left the stage which made the tension of being in hiding and then her (forced) abandonment of her daughter even more poignant. The reading of Ready or Not brought home the need for us to document personal, family narratives in the context of political conflicts. It also emphasised the important role that younger generations play in posing challenging questions about the past so that we can learn for the future.

The rehearsed reading was presented at OOTW 2017 and information on the cast can be found here

An analysis of the play and the English translation will be published in 2021 in Uruguayan Theatre in Translation: Theory and Practice