Four Questions for: Caraid O'Brien

Caraid O'Brien (Internship '93) is a writer, translator, and actor who appeared in two recent Yiddish-language productions of Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance, whose controversial subject matter (including prostitution and lesbianism) resulted in its cast being arrested on obscenity charges shortly after its Broadway debut in 1923. Previously, Caraid translated the play to English.

What drew you to God of Vengeance—as a translator and as an actor? 
I first read God of Vengeance in Yiddish during a theater class with Ruth Wisse. When I moved to New York in 1997 to become an actor, I saw a production in English that was nothing like the play that I read. I felt the spirit of Sholem Asch rise through the floorboards, look me in the eyes, and say, "You know this is not the play that I wrote." Also, like most Yiddish plays, it has several phenomenal roles for women.

What's the difference between engaging with a work as a translator and engaging as an actor? 
Actors are crucial to creating an exciting, living translation. For any play, I work on several drafts, reading it with actors throughout to see what works. It takes about a year from first translation to opening night. Acting for me is a very joyful, freeing experience; I find translation extremely difficult and frustrating. What keeps me going is my reward—a juicy role to play.

Why is this story—and the behind-the-scenes story told in the new play Indecent—captivating to audiences in 2017?
God of Vengeance is an important twentieth-century masterpiece of world literature, as well as an important moment in Jewish literature and queer literature and the history of free speech. Sholem Asch's progressive attitudes toward female sexuality, as well as his unflinching spotlight on religious hypocrisy, make this play particularly relevant for this era we find ourselves in. 

What play would you be willing to be arrested for? 
If a play is worth the difficulty of translating, then it's definitely worth a few nights in jail. So for me that would be anything by Sholem Asch, Dovid Pinski, Ansky, and honestly many, many others. 

Spring/Summer 2017