“You have never experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”
– Chancellor Gorkon, from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
production draft, dated 12/28/90
At first glance, it’s a relatively throwaway and rather humorous line from a Star Trek movie.
Upon second glance, some saw it as a challenge.
With a third glance, the challenge becomes a once-in-a-lifetime event… well, technically, a twice-in-a-lifetime event.
As the Klingon language has achieved a worldwide cult status, it seemed only a matter of time before someone put pen to paper and translated Shakespeare into Klingon. Maybe it was on a lark; maybe some people took it way too seriously. With the participation of the creator of the Klingon language, Marc Okrand, Washington Shakespeare Company mounted a one-night-only show titled By Any Other Name: An Evening of Shakespeare in Klingon in September 2010. Originally a fundraising event, this night featured humorous stories from both Okrand and George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in the original television show and resulting films.
The show was a runaway success; due to popular demand and a fortuitous coincidence involving the British Broadcasting Corporation, WSC remounted this show for another one-night-only presentation on Sunday, February 27. Stepping into Takei’s guest appearance slot was Stephen Fry, most known to those in the US for his roles in V for Vendetta, early seasons of the hit Fox network series Bones and for his renowned portrayal of Oscar Wilde in Wilde. Also an accomplished author and humanist, Fry has embarked on a tour with a camera crew from the BBC for his upcoming documentary series, Planet Word, which seeks to engage its audience through the examination of various languages used throughout the world. Upon hearing about the show in September, the BBC contacted WSC to remount this show with Fry’s participation in order to film it for Planet Word.
By Any Other Name opened with DC stage mainstay Joe Palka as an ebullient Master of Ceremonies; after giving a little history of WSC and the night’s content, Palka handed the reins over to WSC Artistic Director Christopher Henley and Executive Director Warren Arbogast to share the oft-humorous anecdote of how this show and its remount came to fruition – when the BBC called and asked if this date was okay (considering it was up against the Academy Awards telecast), Arbogast nonchalantly replied, “‘Sure, fine,’ knowing full well that whatever date they proposed would be when we would do it!”
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing Marc Okrand tell you stories about his time in Hollywood and his involvement in the Star Trek franchise, I highly suggest becoming friends with him or attending one of his lectures. Taking the stage for twenty minutes, he regaled the audience as to how, as a linguist, he was called in to expand the Klingon language, starting with the words that actor James Doohan (the Enterprise’s “Scotty”) invented for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This led to more work with the franchise (up to and including working a few days on 2009’s J.J. Abrams-directed reboot), books about the Klingon language, Klingon dictionaries, appearances as various conventions and all manner of art produced in Klingon – most notably an opera produced in the Hague. Through it all, we were humorously reminded of how the language’s syntax and grammar structures differ from standard English, often resulting in raucous laughter all around.
The audience was then treated to a scene from Much Ado About Nothing in Elizabethan English starring DC supercouple Christopher Henley and Jay Hardee. The same scene was immediately repeated by Okrand and actress Rachel Wyman, both in full Klingon garb and being grammatically translated by Bruce Rauscher and Sara Barker, respectively. The grammatical structure and syntax of the Klingon language contrasted with the straightforward English performance resulted in howlingly funny translations, with Rauscher’s and Barker’s comedic timing (intentionally or not) making the most of each phrase delivered. For the night’s showstopper, the crème de la crème of DC theatre took the stage – half of them, including Stephen Fry, dressed in Klingon regalia – and did a side-by-side performance of the climactic duel from Hamlet, complete with hilarious asides from the Klingon side of the stage when the Elizabethan version strayed from what was supposedly the “original” version of the play. Following this was a spirited Q&A session with Henley, Fry, Okrand, and fellow linguist Arika Okrent. From Fry’s interest in languages to Klingon curse words to each person’s take on how a fictional language can take such popular hold, questions came from many members of the audience with emcee Joe Palka keeping a light, enjoyable tone for everyone.
I, for one, was grateful for this remount of the show. Having missed the first one, I was lucky to have been present for this delightful (and rather insightful) evening of how a trivial comment in an 18-year-old film could make for two hours of uninterrupted enjoyment. The Klingon language or the use of it may not interest everyone; however, if art is truly meant to examine the human condition through its achievements, inventions, successes, failures and adventures, the story that By Any Other Name tells is art personified. If this is the kind of entertainment that Washington Shakespeare Company is capable of producing, I eagerly await their next big production with bated breath.
TRR Theatre Revue by Eddie Pasa