While English is the official language in 83 countries and spoken in 105 other countries, there many more people who don’t speak it — and they might not want to either. When words and meanings get lost in translation, it can be a funny and dangerous affair.
Chautauqua Theater Company’s first New Play Workshop of the season, The Engine of Our Ruin, will demonstrate such a communication breakdown at 4 p.m. today and 2:15 p.m. Saturday in Bratton Theater.
Jason Wells’ political comedy was an easy pick for director Ethan McSweeny, CTC’s resident director.
“I remember reading it and laughing out loud to myself,” he said. “Jason has written it very accurately and authentically.”
The play deals with language and miscommunication with hints of political upheavals. The misinformation and misunderstandings unravel as a routine trade agreement almost leads into the beginnings of a declaration of war.
“The mistranslations in the play are wonderful,” McSweeny said. “We are listening to two conversations, in two different languages, all in English and with someone translating.”
Wells is originally from St. Louis and is a Chicago-based actor with numerous stage, film and television credits.
“Because I was an actor, I understand the importance of dialogues and love writing easy, deliverable ones and try not to write literature for my actors to read,” Wells said.
Guest artist Ronald Orbach will take the stage to play Boris, one of the diplomatic figures.
“Boris is a political animal. He is brilliantly sarcastic and ironic,” Orbach said. “I am excited at the opportunity to play someone who is utterly unapologetic, carves people up just to crush them without giving it a second thought.”
Orbach has a long list of credentials to his name, including various Broadway, Off Broadway, TV and film performances, most recently on HBO’s “Girls.” Calling himself a character actor, he said his roles have usually been “larger than life, loud, obnoxious and the blustering kind.”
Orbach is also a political junkie, which is why Engine appealed to him.
“When I first read the play, I was knocked out by its timeliness in terms of Middle East, politics and diplomacy,” Orbach said.
McSweeny said the play’s subject matter is a perfect fit for Chautauqua.
“The international political setting will appeal to the Chautauquan audience and promote how easy it is to misunderstand if we are not listening,” McSweeny said.
The brainchild of McSweeny and CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch, the NPW’s Signature Staged Readings brings fresh new voices to Chautauqua Institution and present two original plays to the audiences.
The two plays in this year’s season, The Engine of Our Ruin and Afterlove, were selected out of 175 submitted and will each go through one-week workshops, followed by staged readings.
“An NPW play needs to be very far along in its development to benefit from the workshop project,” McSweeny said.
McSweeny will direct Engine, the first NPW of the season.
“Through the workshop process, the NPW takes a play to an almost-performance level with sets, costume, lights, sound and even the actors,” he said. “The NPW gives CTC a chance to explore, with a writer and a cast, something in a compressed way, which is suitable for Chautauqua, where the whole season is compressed into nine weeks of intensity.”
This article was updated on July 18, 2015, to correct the spelling of Ronald Orbach’s name.