Spring production goes both ancient and modern

March 12, 2015

Saint Michael’s College Theater Professor Peter Harrigan ’83 knows that a great way for himself and his students to “play” freely with a play’s words and ideas, unfettered by copyright limits, is to find an ancient work in the public domain and get creative.

“The Menaechmus Twins” by Plautus (254-184 BC) is such a play, and Harrigan is directing an unusual production of it March 25-28 at 7 p.m. in McCarthy Arts Center as the College’s “Mainstage” Theater Department production for spring semester.

Perhaps the most creative aspect of this Saint Michael’s treatment of the play — one of the earliest surviving works of Latin literature and the basis for Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors – is that they actually are doing two different versions on alternating nights in order to explore and poke fun at gender stereotypes.

The result is what the cast(s) and crew call a “Bro-Code” version on Wednesday and Friday, and a “Girl Power” edition on Thursday and Saturday during the four-day run. Together, it’s being billed as “A fresh look at an ancient comedy about Wining, Dining and Concubining!” Admission is free on a first come, first serve basis, and the play in both versions includes mature language.

Besides direction by Harrigan, scenic design for the production is by theater Professor John Paul Devlin and lighting design by Dee Jai Cowles ’15; the stage manager is Julia Grace Scanlon ’15.

“The Menaechmus Twins” tells the tale of long-lost brothers, finally reunited after a series of comic near-misses. Given that the original text has stereotypical and unflattering portrayals of both men and women, Harrigan said, the production will play with the notion of gender by featuring two casts – one that is “traditional” and one that is gender-reversed — in order to “highlight and poke fun at these clichés.”

“Since the text is in the public domain, I have enjoyed working with the students to adapt the language somewhat for modern audiences,” Harrigan said. “We have kept the original character names, the setting and locales, and many classical references – from Hercules to Hecuba. But the students have also inserted many references and one-liners that will resonate with viewers.”

John Paul Devlin has created a clever set in Easter-egg colors that is inspired by the ruins of Pompeii with a little dash of “The Flintstones” and “Laugh-In” mixed in, the director said. The music is from a wide range of sources — Henry Mancini to Tchaikovsky to Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The production is “an action-packed hour with something for everyone,” said Harrigan.

“The student investment is this production has been enormous,” the director said. “I was thrilled to find not only one but two sets of students who resembled each other enough to be cast as twins. Since they are both senior/first-year pairs (Brendan Oates ’15 and Ian Underwood ’18; Jillian Holland ’15 and Emma Petracca ’18), the timing to do this show could not be better.” Oates does double-duty since he also serves as Fight Captain, polishing the combat choreography created by Saint Michael’s graduates Jon and Kirty van Luling. Shelby Anne Davis ’16 plays Erotium in the “Bro-code” cast and also choreographed a big dance number for the finale. Anna-Maria Forger plays the trusty servant Messenio in the “Girl-Power” group and has also serves as Dramaturg for the production, doing historical research on the play, author and period, and sharing that information with the casts. “Dee Jai Cowles ’15 has done a great job lighting the show, and Julia Grace Scanlon ’15 is an amazing Stage Manager – the perfect ‘central nervous system’ to keep this cast and crew of over 40 on task,” he said.

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