- In the Lions’ Den and The Panther by Felix Mitterer
Felix Mitterer is arguably the most successful living Austrian dramatist. This latest volume of his plays to be published by Ariadne Press complements earlier translations of eleven major plays, dating from 1977 to 1998; this book presents two works from 2008. Mitterer himself provides a brief preface.
In the Lions’ Den is the story of a Jewish actor who is dismissed from the stage by the Nazis, only to reappear a year later as a Tyrolean farmer, complete with costume and a beard and speaking in dialect; his triumph as the ultimate Aryan actor is celebrated by Goebbels himself, thus making the impersonation even more perilous. Translator Victoria Martin ably renders the various speech patterns for the English stage. One example is Meisel, the director, who blurts out fragments and stutters:
Aber, meine Herrschaften, das ist ja, wo sind wir denn, Sie können doch Ihren Unmut nach, ich bitte Sie, hören Sie doch auf, unsere verehrten Premierenabonnenten haben doch das Recht, Sie, ich hole die Polizei.
Gentlemen, this is, I mean, consider where you are, you can’t simply let your feelings, please, stop this, we value our regular audience, they have the right to, remember this is a premiere, you, I shall call the police.(6)
A more formidable challenge, however, is the dialect of the counterfeit Tyrolean who recounts his attempts at theater and the reactions of his family:
Der Vatter, da hat er no glebt, hat zan rearn angfangen, aber nit, weils ihm gfallen hat, sondern weil er mir oane schmieren wollt und er hats aber nimmer derpackt. Mei Weib hat a greart, weil sie gmoant hat, es hat mi a gfährlicher Rappel packt, die Muatter is ma eingschlafen und meine Kinder ham mi hoamlich ausglacht [. . .]. Der Vatter is gstorben, die Muatter is gstorben, mei Frau is gstorben, zwoa von meine Kinder sein unter der Lahn blieben, oans von die Madeln is ma in’ Bach gangen, weil i s’ a bißl gschimpft hab wengan ledigen Kind, dem Ältesten hab i vor oaner Wochen den Hof übergeben, und jetzt bin i da und möcht Theater spielen. [End Page 199]
A comic tour de force in the original becomes a nightmare for the translator attempting to find a dialect equivalent in English:
Ma da wiz still alive then, they used tae make him weep, but it wiznae cuz he liked the plays, it wiz cuz he wanted tae smack me one, but he wiz too auld by then. My wife used to cry too, cuz she thought ah wiz goin’ mad, my ma wid fall asleep and ma weans laughed at me behind ma back [. . .]. Ma da died, my ma died, ma wife died, an avalanche got two of ma weans, one of ma lassies jumped intae the river cuz ah scolded her a bit on account of her having a basturt bairn, ma eldest lad’s got the farm, ah handed it over tae him a week ago, and now ah’m here and ah want tae act(41–42).
The effect is clear, and it is successful in English, at least until the character admits his modest background in Tyrol in the same Scottish brogue.
Martin has taken the liberty to change the name of the character “Jakschitz” to “Morovitz” for obvious reasons of pronunciation in English, but two Anglicisms that are anachronistic for the historical period are “Moral Majority” for Pfaffen and “bet your bottom dollar” for Gift nehmen. The play’s ending is also somewhat controversial, as clarified in an editor’s note (presumably composed by Martin). Mitterer preferred a “von-Trapp-family ending,” with the hero escaping Nazi retribution and fleeing to the mountains with his children (who brilliantly recite verses from Lessing’s Nathan der Weise, imploring love and tolerance). Martin has constructed her own ending, allowing the Jew/Aryan to depart alone, without his intended revenge but with his sanity and his decency intact in a closing...