Nimbus Explores Ghost Sonata with New Translation

Karen Bix in <em>Ghost Sonata</em>.

Karen Bix in Ghost Sonata.

Danielle Blackbird has done it all in the theater. "I was a stage manager. I got my M.F.A. in acting. I directed a show, and I wrote a play for Nimbus," Blackbird says.

Now she can add translator to the list. She has created a new version of August Strindberg's Swedish classic Ghost Sonata for Nimbus Theater. The show opens this weekend.

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The chance to translate came from Blackbird's current residence. She and her husband moved to Sweden four years ago. In that time, she has learned the language well enough to translate the play.

"This is my first time working as a translator. As an actor, you want the language to live in your mouth," Blackbird says.

Blackbird, naturally, started with Stindberg's original text. She also read several earlier English translations of the play. Once she started, she set those aside and worked primarily with a variety of English-Swedish and Swedish language dictionaries.

Strindberg wrote the play in 1907 to be set in contemporary times. Director Zach Morgan chose to move that setting to our contemporary times. "That gave me guidance in what tone of language to use. There is not a lot of slang, but people speak in a way today that is not 19th century," Blackbird says.

"It's a fairly surreal play. There are mummies and talking statues and courting couples talking about hyacinths for three pages. I kept it anchored in reality, but also added a poetic language," Blackbird says.

"We are serving him best by setting it in the present day," director Zach Morgan says. "It's a chamber play, and should move like music. Music is so immediate and visceral. It is something that lives with us. I wanted this new translation to be timeless and poetic and be a little more malleable to the rhythm the show moves in."

Morgan went back and forth on whether to set the play in the early 20th or 21st centuries. "Every person I asked said to set it today," he says.

A contemporary setting opened up the play in ways Morgan didn't expect, and also made some of the clues in the text easier to follow. "The characters are costumed in different periods," Morgan notes.

While it may be difficult for contemporary audiences to know the difference between clothing in 1907 and 1880, it's simple for us to recognize the changes from 1980 to 2014, Morgan adds.

"It's one of his best plays. If I wanted to do a Shakesperian play, I would do Hamlet, because it is best one," Morgan says. Strindberg "gives us something we can chew on for months. I want to stimulate the audiences' minds."

Of course, languages don't always have exact synonyms. "There was one word that literally meant setting someone free, but words like emancipator or liberator have additional connotations," Blackbird says.

Blackbird, who is currently learning ancient Greek at a Swedish university, loves to learn new languages. However, that is "tough in Sweden. Everyone speaks English, so it is easy to cheat."


Ghost Sonata Saturday through November 23 Nimbus Theater 1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis $10-$18 For tickets and more information, call 612-548-1380 or visit online.