Q & A with Philip Boehm of Upstream Theater’s “Sweet Revenge”

Upstream Theater’s Sweet Revenge opened last week to stellar reviews, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss the production with director and translator Philip Boehm. The play, a popular Polish comedy, is presented as the first performance in Upstream’s 13th season.

Tell me about your process for translating text? What elements were the most challenging and rewarding?

PB: Every text is different and requires a different approach. For me the first step is hearing the voice –or voices– of the original.

All plays present certain challenges since the text is meant to be spoken, and since the information has to be conveyed in real time–you can’t flip back a few pages to check something. This particular piece is in rhymed metered verse, so that raises the challenge to another level. And the best reward is hearing such a cast actually bring these lines to life.

What drew you to the original text of Sweet Revenge? Why were you drawn to this play in particular to translate and direct?

PB: I’ve known this play ever since I lived in Poland and it holds an enormously important place in the Polish canon. When we were awarded and NEA grant for this project we finally had the opportunity to put it in our season, with this great cast.

How is your production of Sweet Revenge connected to the play’s St. Louis performance in 1933?

PB: The 1933 performance is a framing conceit to bring this play closer to our audiences and also to pay homage to the people who did stage such plays. I have no doubt the Slowacki Theatrical Society produced this play in Polish, although whether it was 1933 or not I could not say. The church (Sts. Cyril and Methodius) where these plays were held still exists.

Why should audience members and the St. Louis theatre community make seeing Sweet Revenge a priority?

PB: This is a play for a very broad audience, and the production should of particular interest, partly because it summons to life a part of our local history, while at the same pointing to questions relevant today. It’s a play about walls dividing neighbors, and the need to overcome these walls in our hearts.

[…] St Louis has many layers of history, some brighter, some darker. Our shaping of the present is helped by our understanding of the past. Our hope is that in presenting a piece of the past that is less known we also enhance appreciation of the city with a remarkably diverse history.

What else is coming up for Upstream this season?

PB: Our next piece is Infected by Albert Ostermaier, a German playwright. This would be yet another US premiere. Beyond that is top secret as we are negotiating about rights.

Sweet Revenge performances continue through October 22nd at the Kranzberg Arts Center.

Considered the finest Polish comedy ever written, this 19th century verse drama uses Molière-like wit to poke fun of human follies. Upstream takes the hijinks to another level by presenting the play as performed by an actual amateur Polish immigrant theater from the 1930s. A sympathetic satire with a focus on tolerance. Directed by Philip Boehm. Cast: John Bratkowski, John Contini, J. Samuel Davis, Caitlin Mickey, Jane Paradise, Whit Reichert and Peter Winfrey.

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