In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Labyrinth of Words
  • Liz Diamond (bio) and Tom Sellar (bio)

Editor’s Note: Paul Schmidt, our longtime colleague and friend, died at the age of sixty-five in February 1999. His many translations for the stage include the complete works of Chekhov and Khlebnikov—in addition to individual works by Euripides, Molière, Marivaux, Gogol, Mayakovsky, Brecht, and Genet (among others). His original plays included Black Sea Follies (about Stalin and Shostakovich) and Alice (an adaptation of Lewis Carroll with lyrics by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, published in this magazine). Paul collaborated with leading experimental directors and ensembles around the world, including Robert Wilson, JoAnne Akalaitis, Peter Sellars, the Wooster Group, and the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg. He loved acting and performed various roles in many off-Broadway and regional productions; he was also passionate about ideas and contributed critical essays to the Nation, the New York Review of Books, and Delos.

Paul completed his translation of Racine’s Phèdre in November and December 1998, when it was staged at the American Repertory Theatre. Recently, I spoke with Liz Diamond, the production’s director, about their frequent collaborations.

—T. S.

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Figure 1.

Director Liz Diamond in rehearsal with Karen McDonald and Randy Danson at the American Repertory Theatre, November 1998. Photo: Richard Feldman.

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Figure 2.

Riccardo Hernandez’s design model for Phèdre at the American Repertory Theatre, 1998. Photo: Riccardo Hernandez.

TOM SELLAR Before his death in February 1999, you collaborated with Paul Schmidt on three major productions in ten years: Molière’s School for Wives and Brecht’s Saint Joan of the Stockyards at Yale Repertory Theatre and Phèdre at American Repertory Theatre. How did you work together as director and translator?

LIZ DIAMOND The pattern was fairly consistent. Saint Joan of the Stockyards and School for Wives were new translations, commissioned by Yale Rep. Usually Paul would do one first draft which he wouldn’t show me until it was, in his view, truly solid. I’d go home and read it, and then we’d get together and read it out loud—with Paul acting out most of the parts! At that point I usually had a long list of questions and notes, often nitpicky, usually regarding either cuts he had made or word choices. My barometer for language was sensitive to a certain tendency in Paul’s early drafts toward contemporary colloquial language that I thought might land clashingly on the ear. He would usually say, “I know, I wasn’t sure about that, I had to put it in.” Sometimes he would argue and say, “No, that character really is kind of a schmuck, and of course he would speak this way,” etc., etc. I remember at one point while tracking the Byzantine plot of Saint Joan of the Stockyards I discovered that there were some places where the economic plot just wasn’t working out, and I couldn’t figure out why. I went over the text again and again and realized that the verb to buy was occasionally transposed into the verb to sell (they’re close in German). I did a fair amount of work on the songs in Saint Joan to find some of the language and rhythm jokes in the original. That was the kind of work I did for Paul when we collaborated on a translation, housework really.

I’m fluent in French, so School for Wives was a much more straightforward proposition. Molière’s play, of course, exists in a number of well-known translations, but as I did whenever [End Page 93] I worked with Paul, I only used his text and the original. I did not go to the Wilbur or any other translation. Because I wanted to be sure that I was getting inside his reading of the play and his emotional response to the play, and not compare his strategy with another translator’s. I was at pains to treat Paul like a playwright in that sense, to inhabit his poetics.

How much of his own response to the material became part of...

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pp. 91-101
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Archived 2005
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