Former student and professor collaborate on play translation

Anna Donko '14 in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park. For five days in December 2014, Donko hiked a portion of the national park in Chilean Patagonia.
Anna Donko ’14 in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. For five days in December 2014, Donko hiked a portion of the national park in Chilean Patagonia.

Sweet Briar College will host a reading of the English translation of a one-act play in Spanish by Jorgelina Cerritos of El Salvador, “Al otro lado del mar” (“On the Other Side of the Sea”), at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, in the Browsing Room of Cochran Library. The event is free and open to the public.

Emerita professor of Spanish Margaret Stanton and her former student, Anna Donko ’14, a Spanish major and mathematics minor, translated the play.

The reading will be an abridged version with sophomores Tristin Burke and Emelie Wurster reading the two roles in English. Twin sisters Isis Balico ’16 and Genisis Balico ’16 will read several sections in the original Spanish.

Cerritos, who began her career in acting and took up playwriting in 2000, gained international fame in 2010 when she won the prestigious Casa de las Americas Prize for “Al otro lado del mar” and later the George Woodyard Prize for Latin American Drama in 2012. She continues writing and producing plays in her home country and abroad and has earned numerous national awards; she also writes children’s literature and poetry.

For six months, Stanton and Donko worked on the translation by email and Skype. The idea for the project developed during Donko’s senior honors thesis, in which, with Stanton as her advisor, she analyzed the works of two contemporary Spanish American playwrights, Cerritos and Cristina Escofet of Argentina. The translation project is a first for Donko: “The opportunity for faculty-student collaboration provided by the Honors Program was the starting point for this project. I have been able to pursue my passion for the Spanish language and Spanish American literature thanks to the strong foundation I received at Sweet Briar.”

Cerritos’ plays have not been translated to English.

“As she continues to gain fame and recognition on an international level, the translation of her award-winning piece, ‘Al otro lado del mar,’ seemed to be a logical and necessary undertaking. Finding a publisher will be the next step,” Stanton said.

“We hope to contribute to the enjoyment of Latin American drama by Anglophone audiences. Jorgelina Cerritos writes in a simple but highly lyrical style. Students of drama will recognize influences from the theater of the absurd and existentialism.”

Stanton and Donko were drawn to this work because it refers to the basic dreams and failings of humble people. It also comments on ubiquitous bureaucratic forces that reduce our identity to a piece of paper.

The play takes place on an isolated beach over six days. Its two characters are complete opposites — a civil servant and an itinerant fisherman — who engage in a prolonged conversation that cover themes of identity, existence, isolation, bureaucracy and ageism.

When the freedom-loving fisherman decides to participate in society on land, he encounters a serious problem: In order to attend school, get married and adopt a dog, he needs an official form of identification. He comes upon Dorotea, who has the power to give him an identity but refuses to do so because he doesn’t possess a piece of paper that proves his existence. The woman, in turn, is about to lose her job because of her age, even though she is an excellent employee. In this absurd situation, both characters reflect on significant moments of their life, sharing their disappointments and regrets. Little by little they realize that they have much in common and that having a friend on the other side of the sea can help them cope with life’s absurdities.

Stanton taught Spanish and Latin American studies at Sweet Briar from 1987 to 2013. Her previous translations include short stories, essays and a novel, all by women writers from Spanish America.

Donko participated in Sweet Briar’s Junior Year in Spain program. Following graduation, she spent four months as an English-language teaching assistant in Chile’s English Opens Doors Program in Rio Bueno. She teaches Spanish at Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio, and plans to pursue graduate work in Spanish American literature.

The play reading is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Stanton at stanton@sbc.edu.