The Emperor of the Moon, by Aphra Behn, adapted and directed by Jenna Ware. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
If you like to laugh, long, hard and hearty as I do, there is no better place to do it than in the Rose Footprint Tent on the property of Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, MA. The young company under the superb direction of Jenna Ware have the clowning down to a science and this year they are performing in Ware's adaptation of the 1687 Aphra Behn play "The Emperor of the Moon." Using commedia techniques brilliantly the director and actors forge a silly, outrageous sci-fi mystery play that will leave you laughing your way out of the lawn chairs you sit in. Or if you bring along a paper-bag you can laugh your way out of that too.
Though she died young, Aphra Behn was a prolific author and a successful one, writing novels, essays, criticism and plays, lots of plays. She was also a known spy, called Agent 160 and she is buried in Westminster Abbey which says a lot for her influence in her day. In this play, her last produced piece, she lets go with the whimsy and produces characters out of an earlier era who have no difficulty providing unnecessary difficulties for one another in romance and family matters. In Jenna Ware's new adaptation, having its world premiere this summer, Ware does Behn one better and pulls out all of the comic stops.
Her two principal women, cousins Elaria and Bellemante played here by Caroline Calkins and Zoe Laiz, physically exhaust all possibilities as they enter, exit, cavort, cajole, compare, campaign, and cohabitate as they seek to bring their lovers to their sides in a suitable marriage. Both women are deliciously dynamic as they slam into walls, drop and pick up everything they carry with them, fall into fights and make pretense into sexual tension. Their lovers, Don Charmante and Don Cintio (Colin Gold and Conor Seamus Moroney) duel and recite, don disguises and find one another in them, make love to their dearies and dearly belove their intended brides. This quartet of players rarely stand still and when they do the do so as reflections of one another. Whatever they do, even at the tenderest moments, they always manage to be amusing and not just for us, but for one another as well.
As the two servants who strive to serve their masters Gregory Boover as Scaramouch and Marcus Kearns as Harlequin bring the acrobatic sensibilities in the Commedia style to their highest planes. They seem to almost never stand still. They fall, they rise, they leap and they swim through the air, they imitate nature and their natures seem to be set in trampolines. They are so physically active while expounding on the plot, the plots within the plot and their own plotting in love affairs of their own that they nearly exhaust us with the laughter they provoke. They are absolutely outrageous and they do it so well that it doesn't matter what they say, really, as long as they do it while moving. They even dance together in a comic manner that provokes and delights.
Their mutual beloved, Mopsophil is delicately and delightfully played by Caitlin Kraft. Eleria's ditsy father whose love of all things "moon" provokes the plot along is played very nicely by Lori Evans. Her assistant Peter is portrayed by Kaileela Hobby. Cinthio's and Charmante's servants who get caught up in the plot to confuse Eleria's father are played by Ashton Muniz and Concetta Russo who do a bang-up job as the visiting dignitaries from the moon. Dara Silverman comically and perfectly sets the stage for each scene and, with Eric Corbett Williams, provides the bubbly atmosphere so cherished in these proceedings.
There is music, dancing, a parody of the Broadway hip-hop musical, "Hamilton," comedy in language and the rougher comedy of pratfalls and slapstick and for 75 minutes you just listen and watch - when you can - and laugh until your head aches with it.
Shanna Wells costumes are as delightful as the play and Emma Ayres music is a nice match. Marcus Kearns dance choreography sometimes is hard to distinguish from Jonathan Croy's fight choreography - the two blend into one another at times. Director Ware gives author Ware's script a perfect setting and airing.
Mostly, you laugh. The style of playing is unique and no company does it better than this one. P-shaw (see above) is no relative of GB Shaw but both signify something that means a lot to this world - good honest characters we can enjoy, laugh at and laugh with. There's a good chance you can do all that with this delightful dollop of drollery.
Gregory Boover and Marcus Kearns; photo: Ava G. Lindenmaier
Zoe Laiz and Colin Gold; photo: Ava G Lindenmaier.
COncetta Russo and Ashton Muniz; photo: Ava G. Lindenmaier
The Emperor of the Moon plays in the Rose Footprint Tent on the property of Shakespeare & Co at 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA through August 20. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-637-3353 or go on line to www.shakespeare.org.