Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spring Awakening, a new translation

Today, I received an advance copy of Jonathan Franzen's new translation of Frank Wedekind's play, Spring Awakening. Here is what the publisher has to say.
First performed in Germany in 1906, Frank Wedekind’s controversial play Spring Awakening closed after one night in New York in 1917 amid charges of obscenity and public outrage. For the better part of the twentieth century Wedekind’s intense body of work was largely unpublished and rarely performed. Yet the play’s subject matter—teenage desire, suicide, abortion, and homosexuality—is as explosive and important today as it was a century ago. Spring Awakening follows the lives of three teenagers, Melchior, Moritz, and Wendl, as they navigate their entry into sexual awareness. Unlike so many works that claim to tell the truth of adolescence, Spring Awakening offers no easy answers or redemption.
I haven't had a chance to yet read the work, though I did read Franzen's challenging introduction. In it, the acclaimed, National Book Award winning novelist (The Corrections, etc...) notes Wedekind's California origins, his troubled history, as well as the play's controversial New York City debut. Franzen also mentions Wedekind's Pandora's Box, the character of Lulu, and their relationship to Spring Awakening, as well as the fact that Alban Berg wrote an opera based on the Wedekind play. (Franzen did not mention Pabst's film or Louise Brooks.)

I term Franzen's introduction challenging because Franzen does not hold his punches when discussing earlier translations, or even the recent Broadway musical - which he terms "insipid." From what I gather, this new translation promises a fuller and more truly representative version of Wedekind's work. We shall see. It would be great to see him translate Pandora's Box.
Spring Awakening is the best play ever written about teenagers, and Jonathan Franzen's fraught yet buoyant translation is the best I've ever read.  In a culture where lies about adolescence prevail, this funny and honest play is more relevant than ever. Spring Awakening is essential reading.”  — Christopher Shinn

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