Division of Theatre/Dance to present new translation of classic drama “The Post Office”
A new translation of a world theatre classic is coming to the University of Maine stage, courtesy of the School of Performing Arts.
The Division of Theatre & Dance will present The Post Office, written by Rabindranath Tagore and directed by UMaine theatre professor Rosalie Purvis. This new adaptation was co-translated by Debaroti Chakraborty and Purvis. The show will run November 10-19 at the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre. Tickets and showtimes can be found here.
The Post Office was written in 1912 and tells the story of a young child named Amal who would like nothing more than to venture out to see the world. However, he is quite ill, so he is confined to the indoors on doctor’s orders. There, he passes the time gazing out the window. One day, he notices the king’s post office in the distance, and he begins dreaming of receiving a letter from the king. As he waits, he befriends a variety of locals from the village who pass by his window, and touches each of their hearts.
In many ways, the production marks the culmination of years of work by director and co-translator Rosalie Purvis and her collaborators.
“For the past eight years, I have been working with a group of theatre artists in Kolkata, India, the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning writer Rabindranath Tagore,” said Purvis. “I work with my primary collaborator Dr. Debaroti Chakraborty on theatre projects that cross cultural barriers. As I learned more about the history of Tagore’s play The Post Office, I felt more and more drawn to it. Not only is it one of Tagore’s most poignant and universally accessible plays, but it has a long history of crossing borders of language, culture and nation.”
There’s a universality to the impact of the piece, according to Purvis, with that relatability leading to it resonating deeply across cultures and circumstances.
“The Post Office has been performed all over the world, including notably, during the Holocaust, by Jewish orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto, and by prisoners in Nazi concentration camps,” she said. “Since my own late grandparents survived those same camps, I began to wonder whether they might have been seen or even been involved in one of the performances. I also grew increasingly curious to explore what about this play brought comfort, or perhaps wisdom, or perhaps a quiet revolution to so many during troubled times.”
This initial interest deepened as Purvis and her collaborative partners began digging into not just the text, but into the history and belief systems inherent to both the author and the time in which he was writing.
“Debaroti and I began researching the play, and deepening our understanding of Tagore’s legacy,” Purvis said. “When we visited the Tagore House in Kolkata last winter, we were struck by the way Tagore himself traveled the world and sought to bring his work across borders. He spoke out against trends of nationalism and advocated for literature and arts to be shared across cultures. My students here at the University share this philosophy and often ask why so many global classics do not seem to make their way to US audiences.”
This was enough to convince Purvis that she wanted to bring this piece to the stage with her students, but she struggled to find a translation that effectively conveyed the play’s power to a modern English-speaking audience. The obvious solution? Come up with their own translation.
“Debaroti and I made the decision to direct The Post Office with my students at the University of Maine,” said Purvis. “We poured over many translations but, while each served a useful purpose as literary and cultural artifact, none of them seemed to function as stage plays, particularly within the cultural context here in Maine. The language in English seemed stilted and lacking the element of subtext and emotion that the original has.
“After studying the play with students here, as well as in Kolkata, we decided to create a new translation that, by way of language and cultural choice, might create a sort or culturally universal space that could be relatable to all,” she continued.
Purvis also spoke to the value inherent to bringing this kind of piece – a significant entry in the world’s dramatic canon that is nevertheless unfamiliar to many Western audiences – to the stage. It’s a value that extends to cast and audience alike while also inspiring a connection to the place from which the play originated.
“People all over the world have turned to this play for comfort and understanding in hard times so it doesn’t seem surprising that students all over the world, including here in Maine, have responded to the play in moving ways,” she said. “The members of my ever-growing community in West Bengal feel particularly touched that a community so far away is reviving this play that has been such a part of their lives. My community here is excited by the story, as well as the play’s palpable historical reach and impact.”
In the end, Purvis believes that this play will resonate with this community in many important and challenging ways.
“We can all relate to the play’s profound themes of joy, loneliness, connection, loss, and a yearning for adventure,” she said.
(The Post Office will run at the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre on the University of Maine campus, with performances scheduled for November 10-11 and 17-18 at 7:30 PM and November 12 & 19 at 2:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased here.)