There are few times I love my job more than when I get the opportunity to sit across from a smart theatre artist to talk about her or his work. Last week I brought you the words of one such individual, Cara Francis of the New York Neo-Futurists, and this week I had the opportunity to chat with another: Eliza Bent.
Though she is a talented actress, who you might have recently seen in productions such as Seagull (Thinking of You) at this past year's COIL festival, Eliza is also a trained playwright. Her new play The Hotel Colors will be at The Bushwick Starr in May, and after hearing some of what Eliza has to say, I'm sure you'll understand and share my excitement.
When I asked how the idea for The Hotel Colors came to her, Eliza said:
I lived in Italy. I spent a semester in Parma, in the north. And then I didn't have enough -- that was like an antipasto, so I wanted to spend more time in Italy. After I finished college, I didn't know what to do, and the idea of moving back to Italy seemed totally romantic to me. So I got a certificate to teach English and I moved to Rome, having never spent any time in Rome. (...) So those first couple of nights, when I was really figuring things out, you know I moved without papers, I just wanted to live in Rome and teach English, I stayed in a hostel. (...) I think the idea of a hostel always [stayed with me] -- there is always something so sad and depressing about them.
The idea of a hostel came back into the picture after Eliza went to graduate school for playwriting, and discovered that she was drawn to Beckett's language and self-translation. She studied with Mac Wellman, who suggested that she use her knowledge of Italian to write her own play in translation. Eliza says, "So I started futzing around, and the result was very different. It was much more florid kind of direct, literal translation, from the Italian into the English. So [there were] all [these] weird idioms, or the more creatively put ways of saying, for example, instead of 'I need to check my email,' it is 'I must control my email.'" But the play isn't just about language, of course. Eliza is clearly interested in these people as individuals who are interacting in this hostel. These characters are in a place characterized by temporary friendships and transience.
Even the aspect of translation is more complicated here. Eliza is interested in communication within as well as across language. As anyone who has ever travelled outside of their hometown knows, different places within the same country speak the same language in different ways. All of these uses of language become accessible to us as we experience these characters in English. As Eliza explains, "they are all speaking Italian to each other, but we, as audience members, are hearing it in this direct translation." This interest in personal expression is evident in the description of the show found on its website: "six unlikely travelers converge and form a fleeting community as fail, and flail, to communicate."
Eliza's background as a philosophy major also lurks in the thematic underpinning of this exploration of personal understanding. She says, "You can only express so much with words. There's always a limitation to that. 'That which we cannot say in words, we must pass over in silence.' Thank you, Wittgenstein!" As someone who is interested in stage directions, I can certainly say thank you to Wittgenstein, and Eliza, for concentrating on that!
The Hotel Colors runs from May 8 through May 25 Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm at The Bushwick Starr's mainstage. So if you are interested in language, travel, hostels, people, or even birthdays, come and check out Eliza Bent's The Hotel Colors and see how colorful our language can really be.
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