The great Spanish novelist Javier Marías includes a scene in A Heart So White (1992) where a translator deliberately mistranslates a conversation between two characters who obviously stand in for Margaret Thatcher and Felipe González. He does this to send a coded message to the other translator in the room, his future wife. It is an extraordinary set piece, a serio-comic exposé of the translator’s power but also of its limits. An individual, Marías seems to say, can manipulate communication between authoritarian states for private gain, but ultimately can’t safeguard against that authority.
Playwright Anchuli Felicia King is equally fascinated with the translator, the translated, and the untranslatable. She also has much to say about authoritarianism, whether that comes in the form of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or US multinational corporations. Her play Golden Shield spotlights the ugly hegemony that arises when big tech gets into bed with Big Brother, with a special emphasis on the individual victims that unholy marriage precipitates. In this regard, it brings to mind Stephen Sewell’s anti-capitalist cri de coeur Dreams in an Empty City (1986). But King is less polemical than Sewell, and she eschews maximalist symbolism and apocalyptic rhetoric for something more measured and contemplative, though arguably just as angry. The result is less a fevered thriller than a steely-eyed procedural, white hot to the touch.