NYU Skirball is bringing you two international — and internationally renowned — theatre companies, with back-to-back adaptation-slash-translations of classic texts in entirely different contexts. Gob Squad takes on War and Peace and Teatro La Re-Sentida gives Molière’s The Misanthrope a contemporary spin with La Dictadura de lo Cool (The Dictatorship of Coolness).

Not familiar with these classics? No problem. The artists will get you up to speed when you see the shows — no prior knowledge necessary (although if you’re already an expert, there’s going to be plenty of new delights for you to discover). This study guide gives you some ways to think about translation, adaptation, the sanctity of “originals,” and the resonance of old stories in new contexts, plus some background on Tolstoy and Molière for good measure.

Get started by reading Brandon Woolf’s Indefinite Article on War and Peace and Sebastián Calderón Bentin’s Indefinite Article on La Dictadura de lo Cool. 

Watch Trailers for the Shows

War and Peace

The Guardian put this cheat sheet together in advance of a BBC adaptation: “War and Peace: The 10 Things to Know (If You Actually Haven’t Read It)

“Why Read War and Peace?”: If you’ve never attempted it, let University of Chicago professor William Nickell tell you why it’s worth your time.

Virginia Woolf on Tolstoy:

There remains the greatest of all novelists — for what else can we call the author of War and Peace? Shall we find Tolstoi, too, alien, difficult, a foreigner? Is there some oddity in his angle of vision which, at any rate until we have become disciples and so lost our bearings, keeps us at arm’s length in suspicion and bewilderment? From his first words we can be sure of one thing at any rate — here is a man who sees what we see, who proceeds, too, as we are accustomed to proceed, not from the inside outwards, but from the outside inwards.

Yo Tolstoy, Imma let you finish, but blank wrote the greatest novel of all time

War and Peace is widely regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time… but there’s always room for debate. What’s your pitch for Gob Squad’s next epic adaptation?

PLUS: Everything you ever wanted to know about Gob Squad in their FAQ Videos.

Gob Squad Artistic Development

El Misántropo

Michael Billington, The Guardian‘s theatre critic, ranks The Misanthrope at #23 of the greatest plays of all time.

“Notes on The Misanthrope” by Pannill Camp, director of a 2015 production at Washington University in St. Louis

Molière on Stage: What’s So Funny? Chapter 10: “Not!” Robert Goldsby (2012)

Adam Gopnik eulogizes Molière’s great translator Richard Wilbur while also using The Misanthrope to read contemporary French politics: “Thinking of Richard Wilbur and Molière While Listening to Emmanuel Macron”The New Yorker, Oct 18, 2017

Can’t get enough Molière? Ariane Mnouchkine and Le Théâtre du Soleil made an epic film about him in 1978: Molière, ou la vie d’un honnête homme

Office Hours at NYU Skirball

Professor Erin Mee, and Gob Squad’s Sean Patton and Simon Will.

Marcial Godoy (NYU Hemispheric Institute) in conversation with Teatro La Re-Sentida’s Benjamin Westfall.

***BONUS!*** Caridad Svich, Sebastián Calderón Bentin, Brandon Woolf and Alisa Zhulina riff on translation, adaptation, and cat videos, in this between-shows salon in honor of Gob Squad and Teatro La Re-Sentida.

On Translation (Or Not)

Let’s get classic: Walter Benjamin’s “La Tâche du Traducteur” (1923):

“The Politics of Translation,” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1993)

“Translation as Paradigm for Human Sciences,” Barbara Cassin (2016)

The Translation Studies Readered. Lawrence Venuti (2000)

And for the contrarians: read an excerpt from The Dictionary of Untranslateables: A Philosophical Lexicon (2014)

Plus: “20 Theses on Translation” by Emily Apter, from The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature [click to expand]:

Translation Theses
Translation Theses

On Adaptation

Adaptations can be seen as ways to uncover different meanings that may not be clearly revealed in the orginal stories. They can also be a way to explore the subjectivity of stories we have only been shown in one way.

Explore these readings to uncover more on the uses of adaptation in theatre.

“Telling the Tale: Adaptation as Interpretation” by Robert Gordon and Olaf Jubin (2015)

“Adaptation, the Genre” by Thomas Leitch (2008)

“Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation” by Robert Stam (2000)

On Multimedia

Both companies use multimedia and immersive or participatory strategies in their works. Get up to speed on these styles:

“Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” by Claire Bishop (2004)

Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship by Claire Bishop (2012) [bonus: an article on the many languages of its translations]

“Reality Enchanted, Contact Mediated: A Story of Gob Squad” by Nina Tecklenburg and Benjamin Carter (2012)

“The Spectatorial Body in Multimedia Performance” by Jennifer Parker-Starbuck (2011)

“Live Media: Interactive Technology and Theatre”  by David Z. Saltz (2001)

“In Media Res: Why Multimedia Performance?” with Eric Dyer, Brooke O’Harra, Alex Timbers in conversation with Steve Luber

Extra Credit: The Best of Contemporary Translation

The Lark Theatre’s Theater in Translation (TINT) Initiative is a group of American collaborators made up of playwrights, translators, and advocates of work in translation who meet annually to discuss and develop strategies for global exchange in the theater. The aim is to increase the volume and quality of this kind of work, and help to advance plays in translation toward production.

Also check out their Global Exchanges:

Chinese Language/United States Playwright Exchange

México/United States Playwright Exchange

Middle East/United States Playwright Exchange

Romania/United States Playwright Exchange

Russia/United States Playwright Exchange


The Best Translated Book Award is an American literary award that recognizes the previous year’s best original translation into English, one book of poetry and one of fiction. It was inaugurated in 2008 and is conferred by Three Percent, the online literary magazine of Open Letter Books, which is the book translation press of the University of Rochester.


Chronicle of the Murdered House book cover
Chronicle of the Murdered House, by Lúcio Cardoso
Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson


Extracting the Stone of Madness book cover

Extracting the Stone of Madness, by Alejandra Pizarnik
Translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert

PEN America also champions “translation as advocacy” and has been offering the PEN/Heim Translation Fund grants for 15 years, which awarded $2,800 prizes to 12 grantees this year alone. Here are the 2017 winners of their book-length and poetry translation awards.


Angel of Oblivion book cover

Angel of Oblivion, by Maja Haderlap
Translated from the German by Tess Lewis


Pearl book cover

Translated from the Middle English by Simon Armitage