Imagine a woman in the 17th century singing the words, “A curse upon that faithless maid, who first her sex’s liberty betrayed.” Now imagine the same scene, with the same elaborate costumes and make-up — to the soundtrack of modern rock. If you liked the idea of this opening scene in “The Emperor of the Moon,” then you are in for a treat.
In the theater world, where virtually anything is possible, no play allows for more artistic liberty than EOTM — largely due to the loss of its original music. Well, Aphra Behn’s loss is apparently Todd Theater’s treasure, as Todd has succeeded in bringing this play to life for the pop culture generation. The play is filled with song numbers — and small surprises — that certainly speak to a modern audience. I was visibly entertained by the sight of a man in a ruff singing “Staying Alive” to resuscitate his rival.
One aspect of EOTM that struck me was that it felt like a play within a play. Don Cinthio and Charmante (freshman William Vezinalo and sophomore Melissa Martin) were planning a “farce” for the Doctor, played by sophomore Lydia Jiminez — and a lot of the scheming was done before the eyes of the audience. It almost felt like I was in on the plan, and the only character oblivious to the plot was the Doctor. Commedia dell’arte was one element director Matthew Earnest kept in the play, despite the various attempts to give EOTM a modern spin. The deliberate surprises and exaggerated actions helped perfect the “play within a play” idea, which I particularly enjoyed for its comedic effects.
There is no shortage of comedy in a play like EOTM, known for the lightness of its plot and spectacular entertainment. What was in fact spectacular about this particular play was not just its grand set or out-of-the-world props — though you will be in for some eye-popping surprises, and I mean this literally. It was the commendable performance of the actors in little things like well-timed gestures and facial expressions, to how well the actors functioned as a cast.
These college students had literally brought the age-old elements of commedia dell’arte and farce to the forefront of theater. For a while I had forgotten that I went to school with these people.
The actors play out Behn’s wit and smoothness with precision, incorporating the slapstick humor and general goofiness we all know and love. Watching Harlequin and Scaramouch (sophomores Kelsey Burritt and Christina Rose, respectively) compete for the love of the same woman was very much like watching bowling pins try to knock each other over. They were undoubtedly my favorite couple in the play — Harlequin providing much of the comic relief. In one scene he had tried to tickle himself to death, but met with no success.
At the same time, I can’t help but think about how much less amicable — and comical — the story of EOTM would have been in real life. At one point Harlequin says, “All advantages are lawful in love and war.” I am reminded of the other phrase we exploit frequently. In reality, had the two lovers really tried to trick the doctor into believing there was an “emperor of the moon,” they would have met with some very serious mental health charges. But that is precisely why I love theater — and EOTM embodies that reason.
EOTM will not be a play that presents to you the unexpected or the undiscovered. You will know what to expect at every turn of the play, and you will learn to love it.
If there’s one thing EOTM has shown me, it is that the theater is full of insane people — capable of doing wonders on stage.
Lim is a member of the class of 2014.