- Courtesy Mac Test
Dressed in drag, a nun named Catalina de Erauso breaks out of a Basque convent and escapes to the New World, where she becomes a soldier. She would go on to fight in duels, betroth herself to other single women to steal their dowries, and (possibly) meet Pope Urban VIII in 1625 in Rome before returning to New Spain.
"Her identity is as a man, and given the trans[gender] framework, I was, like, 'Wow!' said Boise State University English Department Chair Mac Test about Erauso, who's the subject of Lieutenant Nun, a play Test co-translated with Marta Albalá Pelegrín about her life.
That play will get a staged reading at Boise Contemporary Theater Monday, Nov. 4, but Test's translation is hardly finished. Through a series of encounters and opportunities with academics and thespians, his efforts to render the 1625 Spanish play by Juan Pérez de Montalbán into English have been complicated (and improved).
Bringing that story to life for audiences and scholars has proven to be two different tasks, and Boise State English Prof. Matthew Hansen, who has long been in the background of Test's project, said that for the audience piece of it, that has meant cracking up its chunky monologues and making it more conversational.
"What we subsequently learned about playwriting in 400 years can inform how we improve that text a little bit," he said.
Getting Lieutenant Nun this far has been a multidisciplinary journey that has also included Diversifying the Classics, a program at the University of California-Los Angeles, which brings the plays of the Spanish Golden Age to modern, particularly Latinx, audiences who may not recognize that many of the concerns in those plays often mirror contemporary social issues, from class issues to gender as a performance.
"We tend to be surprised when the past is anything but conservative," said Diversifying the Classics team member Barbara Fuchs. "The past is not conservative just because it's the past. There are incredible examples of female agency—plays with huge roles written for specific actresses, unlike Shakespeare's England."
Test has also workshopped a part of the play at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which, in September of 2018, staged a single scene through the Engendering the Stage workshop. Through that program, actors, several of whom are transgender, showed Test what his play might look like, as realized by stage professionals.
"They helped me understand this play, and particularly this scene, in a much better way," Test said. "It's a research method to feed us scholars ... I want to imitate that here."