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russian studies

Chek-Mate, The Boor & The Proposal


Translating The Proposal

By Polina Shafran

Wise men say that every translation is also an interpretation, because each translator adds something of himself or herself into the translated work. When I read Chekhov, I immediately imagine the people he writes about. In most cases these are just ordinary people, that one could have easily encountered if one lived in the 19th century.  Chekhov’s way of telling a story is through the characters he creates. His heroes are simple: doctors, engineers, teachers, land owners and other common people. The playwright is very particular about giving each one of his ordinary heroes their own distinct features. Like a painter, Chekhov uses small strokes to create a whole picture.  

When translating The Proposal one of my main desires was to preserve the characters Chekhov created. I wanted to capture the way each of the character speaks in the original Russian, then carefully transfer it to English without taking away the substance.  At times this task was quite challenging and required more thought and research: I am grateful to those who contributed their time to help and shared their advice with me. I am very excited to have the opportunity to bring these funny, awkward and naïve people to the audience. These people are part of my history and culture and I hope the audience will like them, laugh with them, and sometimes, at them. 

A Note From The Director…

It is always a pleasure to work with the great writers, and Chekhov is one of the true masters. I am generally attracted by the quality of writing in a play - how brilliant the dialogue, how meticulous the plotting, how seamless the transitions of tone and action. When you work with a play that has good writing, you have one problem less to worry about, and it allows actors, designers, and director to be able to concentrate on doing their jobs in producing something exciting and enlightening, and hopefully entertaining. To look at it in a certain sense, a good writer provides a scaffold of solid bone, onto which the better actors add flesh and sinew to make a living thing of those bones. The task of the designer then is to put clothes on it, while the director is required to give the new creature the manners and etiquette necessary to appear before the public.  All are necessary for a production or performance to be at its best, but without that strong initial bone structure, the rest can only be a chimera at best and a monstrosity at worst.  

We hope that this afternoon, you take as much pleasure in watching these plays, and that you learn as much about the period, the writer, and the culture, as we did in rehearsing them.


James F. Hardymon Theatre, 326 Rose Davis Marksbury Building
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