Translating Marie NDiaye

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Author: Erika Rundle
Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,805 words

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[(essay date 2006) In the following essay, Rundle asserts that NDiaye is one of relatively few novelists who successfully transitioned to playwriting and notes that the complexity of her plays sometimes makes it difficult to maintain “fidelity to subtext” when translating them.]

The forays of novelists into the world of theatre can have mixed results. For every Beckett, Genet, and Handke there are a score of others whose efforts remain page-bound, never finding their way onto the stage. To be sure, the transition from fiction to drama is almost never graceful; it requires a thorough reorientation of the writer’s imagination to accommodate the rigors and freedoms of theatre. While adjustments from one fictional landscape to another require the practiced skills of a long-distance traveler—differences in time, language, culture, and habit exert their own considerable demands on both reader and writer—moving between genres can seem like the equivalent of an interstellar voyage: dangerous, fascinating, and subject to an entirely foreign gravitational force.

Marie NDiaye, a novelist celebrated for her penetrating, precise meditations on themes of intimacy, abandonment, violence, and sorcery, has, with the publication of Hilda—her first work for the stage—transformed her many literary gifts into the talents of an equally compelling playwright. Her drama—dominated almost completely by the speech of one character, Mrs. Lemarchand—creates and maintains, on its surface at least, a singular perspective often associated with the novel, but does so in a way that exposes the violence upon which such domination is predicated. NDiaye shows us, in six starkly theatrical scenes that culminate in Mrs. Lemarchand’s complete disintegration, the manner by which other, less powerful voices are silenced, and the terrifying consequences of this development for all involved. The play’s title character, physically absent throughout the drama, is nevertheless a constant specter, a hovering object of desire who determines, through her very absence, the fate of those who speak of—and for—her.

Since it was published in 1999 by Éditions de Minuit, Hilda has been translated and performed throughout Europe, with productions most recently in England, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy. In France, the play received its first full production in Paris, in 2002, at Théâtre de l’Atelier, directed by Frédéric Bélier-Garcia and starring Zabou Breitman as Madame Lemarchand. It won the Grand Prix de la Critique, encouraging NDiaye to continue writing for the stage. To date, she has created four additional theatrical pieces: Providence (2001); Papa doit manger (2003); Les serpents (2004), and Rien d’humain (2004). For a relatively new playwright, NDiaye holds the unusual distinction of having had a script (Papa doit manger) admitted into the repertory of the Comédie Française. She is one of only two women to have done so in the institution’s 325-year history.

NDiaye’s work...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100125373