NEA TRANSLATION GRANTS: Chantal Bilodeau translating Koffi Kwahulé


Chantal Bilodeau translating works by French-African playwright KOFFI KWAHULÉ

To support the translation from French of plays by French-African playwright Koffi KwahuléKwahulé is a Paris-based playwright and novelist originally from Côte d'Ivoire. He received his doctorate in theater studies from the Sorbonne, and has written more than 20 plays, which have been produced internationally and translated into several languages. His work explores the dynamics of power and oppression of disenfranchised individuals, the search for identity, and the isolation of contemporary life in urban settings. This fellowship will support the translation of three plays — That Old Black Magic, Blue-S-cat, and The Melancholy of Barbarians — completeing Bilodeau's seven-play anthology of Kwahulé's work. The anthology will trace the evolution of his aesthetic, reflecting the influence of Hollywood films, rhythm and blues, and jazz.

Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on Franco-African theater. Her previous translations of Kwahulé's work have been presented by the Lark Play Development Center in New York City, and her own original plays include Pleasure & Pain, produced by San Francisco's Magic Theatre in 2007. She received her MFA in film and MFA in playwriting from Ohio University.

P'tite Souillure

by Koffi Kwahulé

A seemingly happy bourgeois family of three gathers in the living room to celebrate the anniversary of the parents’ first meeting in a movie theater. When the door rings the daughter opens to a young man who introduces himself as “the thunder’s son coming to burn down the house”. Nobody seems to have met the man before yet the daughter recognizes him as Ikedia. The play unfolds like a film in a sequence of tableaux set in closed spaces – a pervasive cinematic metaphor underscores the whole drama through intertextual references to Gone with the Wind – to reveal the hidden contradictions of a psychologically disturbed family. Ikedia, a rather taciturn character, appears as a magnet and a mirror, seducing each of the three characters in turn, and forcing one after the other to undergo introspection and expose his/her true self. Thus, the mother comes out as mentally unstable, a condition she developed since gunning down the bearer of the mask, Ikedia’s father. Throughout the play she undergoes a progressive verbal degeneracy that culminates in infantile language. The father and his daughter, whom he calls “Ptite Souillure”(the title of the play), maintain an incestuous relationship that triggers animosity between mother and daughter and which justifies the adolescent’s wish to leave the family at any cost, even if it entails killing her parents. Ikedia eventually renounces his initial resolve to burn down the house – an act the daughter sees and encourages as necessary vengeance for his father’s murder – when it became obvious that the family is embarked on an irreversible self destructive process.

Koffi Kwahulé was born in Abengourou (Ivory Coast). He studied at the Institut National des Arts in Abidjan, then at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Techniques du Théâtre in Paris (Rue Blanche) as well as at the Sorbonne Nouvelle where he earned a doctorate in theatre studies.

His plays include Cette vieille magie noire (RFI 1st Prize in International Playwriting), Fama (dir. by the playwright, Festival de Limoges, 1998), Jaz (dir. by D. Giordano, Teatro del Fontanone in Rome, 2000), Le Masque boiteux (dir. by S. Koly and A. Dine, Glob Théâtre in Bordeaux, 2002), Bintou (dir. by. R. Gasquet, Théâtre Océan Nord in Brussels, 2003), P’tite-Souillure (dir. by E. Salzmannovà, DISK in Prague, 2003; Award winner at the Journées d’Auteurs in Lyon), Scat (dir. by Y. Bombay, Comédie de Saint-Etienne, 2003), La Dame du café d’en face (dir. by J. Heldenberg, Zuidpool Theater in Antwerp, 2004; SACD-RFI Prize 1994), Big Shoot (dir. by K/ Frédric, Théâtre Denise-Pelletier in Montréal, 2005).

 His plays have been published by Editions Lansman, Actes Sud-Papiers, Acoria and Theatrales, and have been translated into several languages.