A cast of 13 Clarion University students performed an updated Roman comedy this past week in the Marwick-Boyd Little Theatre.
Blending an ancient plot and modern gags, “Miles Gloriosus: The Braggart Warrior” appeals to more than history and ancient literature enthusiasts. Though many aspects of the play undergo modern adaptation, the basis of the original text, largely centered around sexual tension, is preserved.
This show is the first in a series of internationally themed plays for the 2015/16 Clarion University theater series advertised under the heading: “Travel with Us to the Ends of the Earth.” This noted, “Miles Gloriosus” represents contemporary America in humor and style as much or more as it does the Roman society in which it was written. The millennia that separate the two versions of the production are bridged in several different areas.
The costuming was a rather clever synchronization. Though clad in togas, the characters were garbed in vibrantly colored, printed fabrics. These costumes were used to draw out and emphasize major characteristics of those whom the actors portrayed.
One example of character traits made evident through costuming is Periplectomenus, an elderly, wealthy man. This character was outfitted in a one-shouldered toga over a Hawaiian print polo. This highlighted his position as financially secure and free from labor; his tropically themed shirt represented his life as one on a permanent vacation. In addition to his gray hair, Periplectomenus’ age was stereotypically denoted by his choice of long socks with sandals.
A second bringing together of history and modernity is the show’s core: comedy. Though the script follows the same plot as the original (written by Titus Maccius Plautus over 200 years BC), the adapter, Professor Robert Levy, ensured the humor did not die with the Roman Empire. Levy left the play’s original circumstances, humorous in any era, but added new dialogue to appeal to the contemporary viewer.
The plot of “Miles Gloriosus” relies heavily on blundered communication, slapstick and sexual innuendos. Levy accentuated these situations with jokes often including references conceived well after Plautus’ death. One character sang a parody of “I Dreamed a Dream” from the Broadway musical, “Les Miserables.” There was more than one reference to works by Shakespeare who, though seemingly old-fashioned, was far more modern than Roman civilization.
At times, these updated jokes seemed a bit forced, but Levy had no shortage of them. It was interesting to wonder during the play if any of the original script had remained intact. Nearly every line contained referral to a contemporary subject.
Despite the difference in time period, there are many enduring things about this show that needed to undergo no changes for Levy’s adaptation. The use of “asides” (instances when the characters step out of the action of the moment and speak directly to the audience) was a common occurrence in this show. There were many asides in classic plays, such as Shakespeare.
Further, the theme of this play transcends all millennial and linguistic barriers. This is the sexual tension that is the basis for this play. Unarguably, sex is a universal and timeless motivator, not one unique to the 21st century. In choosing this as the premise for his plot, Plautus ensures that his characters and story will be relevant across the span of history.