Transcript / LoLT: Immersive Theater and Two New Books — 29 March 2024

Transcript / LoLT: Immersive Theater and Two New Books — 29 March 2024

Friday, 29 March, 2024

This is a transcription of ‘LoLT: Immersive Theater and Two New Books — 29 March 2024’

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David: What would you do if you had an extra hour in your day? — Would you crack open that book you’ve been meaning to read? Would you go for a run? Would you spend a little more time with your favorite people?

David: A lot of us spend our lives wishing we had more time. Who doesn’t? I know I hear that clock ticking. But time for what? How do you decide to use the hours we have? What do you squeeze into your day, and why?

David: The best way to get to the bottom of that is by figuring out what’s important to you, and then prioritize. Therapy can help you find what matters to you, so you can do more of it.

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David: Learn to make time for what makes you happy, with BetterHelp. Visit BetterHelp dot come slash StrongSense today to get 10% off your first month. That’s BetterHelp H-E-L-P dot com slash StrongSense.


[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, an exploration of the art of translation.

David: A doctor explains why your memory might not be what it was.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: I’m fascinated by the work of translators, especially of novels. I’m in awe of their ability to capture the style and emotion of the story while transforming it from its original language to another.

Melissa: Jennifer Croft is a very successful translator. She’s done award-winning work translating Polish, Ukrainian, and Argentine Spanish. She won the 2018 International Booker Prize for her translation of ‘Flights’ by Olga Tokarczuk. She’s also an advocate for including translators’ names on the covers of books. To that, I say, um… YES. Why isn’t this happening? Translators are not just copyists. The good ones are writers and interpreters of a work.

Melissa: To summarize: Jennifer Croft knows the world of literary translation inside out. Her new novel is ‘The Extinction of Irena Rey,’ and I want to read it right now.

Melissa: Here’s the setup: It’s 2017. Eight translators from around the world are descending on a Polish village at the edge of the primeval forest for a translation summit. They refer to each other by their respective languages, so we meet Spanish, German, English, Serbian, Slovenian, Ukrainian, French, and a newbie: Swedish. They’re gathering to meet with their beloved author Irena to translate her new book. But before they can get down to business, their author — disappears.

Melissa: The rest of the story is the translators’ search for the author — during which they learn hidden secrets about Irena and each other. It’s a combination of whodunit, thriller, and psychological drama that explores the dark side of celebrity and the art of translation.

Melissa: The story features a novel-within-a-novel, narrated by Emi, also known as Spanish. She’s from Argentina and says right up front: ‘Translation isn’t reading. Translating is being forced to write a book again.’

Melissa: She also has this to say about Irena’s original book. The author’s native Polish language ‘comes whooshing through the walls of every paragraph, breaking plates and continually flicking the light switch, creating an atmosphere of wrongness.’

Melissa: To describe this book, reviewers use words like madcap, intriguing, and rambunctious.

Melissa: NPR said, ‘If your head is spinning at the layers here — a novel within a novel that is actually a translation of a Polish novel based on real events written by a non-native Polish speaker — you’re exactly where you should be, and you’re in for a delightful adventure.’ I can’t wait to get lost in this one. It’s ‘The Extinction of Irena Rey’ by Jennifer Croft.

Melissa: I should also mention that if you enjoy books in translation, I made a list of 27 novels in translation with a strong sense of place. I’ll put the link in show notes.

David: So, I wonder if this happens to anyone else. A while ago, I put two ideas together. Almost simultaneously, I blew my mind, and then I thought: I’m certainly not the first person to come to this.

David: The two ideas are — First, our memories are very fallible. We forget things, we remember them wrong, things come and go, and odd bits get stored seemingly forever. We make up stories to connect them that have no basis in what happened. Like the internet meme, I’m more likely to be able to tell you lyrics from an 80s song than why I am currently in the kitchen.

David: Like: I’m here. I walked in here for something. But also —

  • I never meant to cause you any sorrow
  • I never meant to cause you any pain
  • I only wanted one time to see you laughing
  • I only want to see you laughing
  • In the purple rain

David: The second thing is that our memories are who we are. Our memories inform everything from whether we eat cereal in the morning to the joy we feel when our loved ones walk into the room. The narrative of ourselves and how we think about everyone we know is written in our little grey cells.

David: How do these two things co-exist? How are our memories simultaneously flimsy and all-powerful? That is a huge design flaw. People who are smarter than I am have been thinking about this problem.

David: There’s a book that came out two weeks ago that I look forward to reading, assuming I can remember to do so. It’s called ‘Why We Remember: The Science of Memory and How It Shapes Us.’ It’s by Dr. Charan Ranganath. He’s a professor at the University of California Davis and Director of the Dynamic Memory Lab. He’s been thinking about memory for over thirty years now. And he’s a musician. He plays guitar in an indie-punk band. He’s a very learned man, and he’s got a lot to say, and he’s put it in a book aimed at a general audience.

David: In the book, he writes about why humans are better at forgetting, how memory orients us to new and unexpected things, the relationship between memory and imagination, and why we learn more when we make mistakes. He does it all in a very approachable way, and throws in quotes from Iggy Pop, Stephen Wright, and Snoop Dogg.

David: This book came out just a few weeks ago. It’s called, ‘Why We Remember: The Science of Memory and How It Shapes Us.’ It’s by Dr. Charan Ranganath.’

David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

David: A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to London. And while we visited many bookstores, that wasn’t the primary reason we went. We went to see some theater.

David: We saw three shows on three nights while we were there. We saw ‘Nye’ at the National Theater. That’s a political drama about the beginning of the UK’s national health care system — and it was WAY more fun than that description makes it sound. And we took a tour of that theater. If you’re in London, and you like theater, I recommend the tour. They took us backstage. We saw the three stages there, and had a walk-through of some props and costume areas. An older guide told us stories about the shows that had been there. He was the kind of person who kept referring to Laurence Olivier as ‘Larry.’ I had somehow forgotten how much I like theater, and this was a fantastic wake-up to that.

David: We also saw, ‘Six.’ That’s a musical about the wives of Henry the Eighth. The conceit is that they’re alive again and have formed a girl group. If you’re interested in that idea, I recommend going to a show. It’s on Broadway, and they’re touring with it all over the US and Europe. It’s fun; it’s got things to say about those women, and how some things haven’t changed that much in the last 500 years, particularly if you’re a young, pretty girl around powerful men.

David: But the show I really want to tell you about is, ‘Guys and Dolls’ at the Bridge Theater. I will tell you that I had no love for that show. It’s a seventy-year-old musical about a bunch of street thugs and their girlfriends in the 1930s. The music is okay, but there aren’t any standout numbers for me. ‘Luck Be a Lady’ is in that show. Maybe you know ‘Bushel and a Peck,’ or ‘Fugue for Tinhorns.’ But that’s about it. The wisdom of that show — the denouement ‚ is that women should marry a guy and then work on changing him. Which is horrible advice. And the movie version of ‘Guys and Dolls’ is a miscast mess of a thing. Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando play the leads in the movie. Neither are good decisions for those roles. During that production, Sinatra and Brando would end up not speaking to each other. They would go on to bad-mouth each other for the rest of their lives.

David: So, why did I want to see this production of ‘Guys and Dolls’? Because we had a friend describe seeing it. She told us that it was an immersive production. The audience is standing next to the actors. There are times when you can sit on the set. It combines the intimacy of being in the front row of a standing-room-only band — with some Broadway and West-End level performers. It’s like a flash mob of an entire show — with lights and costumes and a band — is happening around you.

David: So we went. And it was fantastic. It was so much fun. We walked into the theater, which is effectively a big floor. There are seven or eight different platforms that they raise and lower during the show. Cast members dressed like cops direct the audience around so nobody ends up on stage when they’re not supposed to be. Some of the actors mull around with the audience and do bits.

David: And then they do the show. The actors look you in the eye. There was a moment when one of the dancers was swung out over the crowd, and it felt like we had to duck. About three-quarters of the way through the show, the leading lady, dressed up for a big burlesque number, said, ‘Hello’ to me. (Madam, I am married.) There was a bit where one of the actors told a joke. And it fell flat. But Mel laughed. And she was the only person who did laugh. And the actor looked at her sideways and said, ‘Thank you.’ And then went on with his bit. In the end, they cleared all the platforms, and the cast danced with the audience while confetti dropped.

David: Super fun. Very good time. If you happen to be in London, and you like theater — or, you know, fun — think about ‘Guys and Dolls.’ If you’re away from London, there are immersive theater productions across the globe. Try Googling for your nearest big city and ‘immersive theater.’ You’ll find everything from ‘art installations you can walk through’ to improv to horror shows to theater like the Bridge production of ‘Guys and Dolls.’

Melissa: Visit for more on the books we talked about today and details about how you can get immersed in live theater.

David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]


Top image courtesy of Manuel Harlan/Bridge Theatre.

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