Guelan Luarca tames tricky translation for ‘Eurydice’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

“I was delighted. Shocked. Couldn’t move. I was shaking,” says Miguel Antonio Alfredo “Guelan” Luarca, recalling his winning First Place in this year’s Palanca Memorial Award for Literature’s Dulang May Isang Yugto category.


“Mga Kuneho,” his one-act play about five men hired by a mysterious employer to transfer a loaded body bag from one room to another, had its premiere at last year’s Virgin Labfest and was chosen to be in this year’s “Revisited” set.


Luarca is now translating for Tanghalang Ateneo’s staging of Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice,” which opens Nov. 22. He is working with director Loy Arcenas.


“He (Arcenas) is super hands-on, even with the translation process,” says Luarca. “We are not adapting Ruhl’s text but he didn’t want to locate it in America, either. So I went for Filipino that’s quite devoid of historical connotations.”


Unlike the Greek myth on which it is based, Ruhl’s adaptation adds a father for Eurydice when she ends up in the underworld. When her lover Orpheus comes to claim her, Eurydice is torn between her love for these two men.


“Arcenas also has a unique reading of Orpheus, less the romantic hero and more of a jock who learns to sacrifice life for love; so my translation accommodates that specific reading,” says Luarca.


Set and costume design is by Arcenas; lighting design by Lex Marcos; sound design by Teresa Barrozo.


In the blood


Theater, for Luarca, is partly in the blood. His mother dabbled in theater under Fr. James Reuter. His father Ward acted for Dulaang Sibol and Teatro Pilipino.


“I grew up watching my dad rehearsing scenes alone at home,” he recalls. “The first time I watched a play was when he was in Tanghalang Pilipino’s ‘Lysistrata.’ That play was directed by Ricky Abad (TA’s artistic director). The first production I acted in for TA, ‘Walang Sugat,’ was also directed by Abad. Father and son’s theater experience came full circle.”


Watching Tanghalang Pilipino’s staging of “Makbet,” in National Artist for Literature and Theater Rolando Tinio’s translation, triggered Luarca’s passion for translation. “I was amazed that you could do that with Filipino,” he says.


He started studying English-Filipino dictionaries, collecting stock vocabulary. In high school, he wanted to direct Chekhov’s “The Boor” but couldn’t find a copy of Tinio’s translation. So, he translated it himself.


Most of Luarca’s translations thus far have been of classic playwrights, though Ruhl’s work is contemporary, premiering just a decade ago.


Always harder


“Translating modern Western plays is always harder than translating classics like the Greeks or Shakespeare,” he says. “It’s a balancing act between respecting the historical context of the original and allowing the specific needs of the target language to sort of bend the material for its own uses.


“Something as American as Ruhl’s ‘Eurydice’ is a lot trickier. Her dramaturgy is so, so very poetic. You can’t quite reword her. She seems to be very sure about how she chooses her words; how long or short a sentence is; how arbitrary some of her images are.


“It was clear that we were doing a translated version. So I didn’t want to take too many liberties with the language. But, of course, there will always be unintended ‘Filipino-ness,’ something very specific to the language and culture, that I think adds to Ruhl rather than distorts her. At least, that’s my intention.”


While he was wrapping up his Literature in English course at Ateneo de Manila University, “Lingon,” the first play he ever wrote and directed, was staged for Ateneo High School’s Palig, an annual competition hosted by the Filipino department.


He has worked on a few plays since, and translated even more.


He has written, acted and directed for both the high school’s Teatro Baguntao and the university’s Tanghalang Ateneo. His recent credits for TA include device-work for “Sintang Dalisay,” an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”


And he is only 22 years old.


“Eurydice” runs Nov. 14-30 at Fine Arts Black Box Studio, Ateneo de Manila University, QC. Call 0917-7931175 or 0917-5760805.

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