Some stories are so universally known that they’re still familiar in a foreign language — even if it’s the most foreign language.
For example, Charles Dickens’ classic character Ebenezer Scrooge is recognizable even when he’s speaking the native tongue of “Star Trek’s” most ruthless race of aliens, as audiences can discover on Dec. 7 when Commedia Beauregard brings “A Klingon Christmas Carol” to the Elgin Community College Arts Center.
This is the seventh year of the production by the Chicago-based theater group, which specializes in producing translated versions of famous works. According to Artistic Director Christopher Kidder-Mostrom, the play started out as a joke tossed out during a brainstorming session for a fundraiser event in 2007, but has developed into one of its most popular annual events.
Kidder-Mostrom says the play, which features English supertitles and a Vulcan narrator to help audience members who might not be fluent Klingon speakers, does more than simply translate a script word-for-word.
Rather, the entire story has been reworked to fit the famous Klingon Code of Honor as if it were being presented to an entirely different culture. “Any time you translate something, you have to translate things culturally,” Kidder-Mostrom said.
First of all, Klingons don’t celebrate Christmas, so the central holiday in the tale has been shifted to the Klingon “Feast of the Long Night.” Secondly, the original Scrooge starts the story as a miser with no compassion and eventually learns to become more charitable.
Because Klingons famously have no use for compassion, the story has been changed so that the cowardly and dishonorable Klingon version of Scrooge is taught courage and honor by the three spirits. The play also features three fight scenes while Dickens’ original, not surprisingly, has none.
The script was written in English by Kidder-Mostrom based on the Dickens short story, then translated into Klingon with the help of the Klingon Language Institute. Kidder-Mostrom is a member of the institute himself, and knows most of the world’s fluent Klingon speakers personally.
The translation process took approximately six months, and necessitated the creation of two new words for “corruption” and “apathy.” Kidder-Mostrom said the translation is an ongoing process, with the script currently in its 13th version.
This year, Commedia Beauregard is giving the show a new look and feel, complete with an entirely new cast. The show has completely new sets at its home in Chicago’s Raven Theatre, and new costumes complete the production’s “steam punk Klingon” look that combines Victorian England with deep space.
For the show’s production in Elgin, the group is creating a multi-level set. Kidder-Mostrom said the show’s new look will give even people who have seen it multiple times a new experience this season.
Kidder-Mostrom said “A Klingon Christmas Carol” does include its fair share of nods to hardcore “Star Trek” fans, but added that the typical audience for the show is evenly split between Trekkies and those who are simply curious. “It’s just weird enough to catch and intrigue, but the other thing is that it’s still a universal tale,” he said.