Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Comedy has been part of the human experience for as long as we can trace history. I suspect the Cro-Magnon man slipped in a joke or two around the fire amidst his story of the hunt. But while we don’t have solid proof of the caveman’s humor, we can still trace the comedy we chuckle at today all the way back to ancient Rome.
Proof of this ages old comedy took the stage this week as the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance presented The Menaechmus Brothers, a play penned by Titus Maccius Plautus sometime in 200 B.C. and translated more recently by E.F. Watling.
Slapstick humor and mixed identities abound in this quirky tale of twin brothers separated in childhood when one was kidnapped and of the relentless search for him carried out by his brother. Both now bear the name Menaechmus although they didn’t start out that way, but it adds to the wackiness of the piece and confuses just about everyone they meet.
Five players take on a number of roles, but Matt Coggins and Mark Vukelich spend most of their time in the roles of the brothers. Tiffany Cousineau, Destiny Dunn and Jillian Mac alternate as personal servants, a wife, a mistress, and even a father-in-law.
Director William Irwin has adorned them all with traditional masks worn to portray certain stock characters well known to the Roman audiences. His staging emphasizes style and movement with loads of near choreographic posing and not a few hilarious double takes.
First we meet the lost Menaechmus who has married a rich woman and lives in a distant town where he was lost so long ago. He also has a mistress who conveniently lives next door and a servant who is always at his side. After visiting his mistress and gifting her with a flashy red dress, he leaves promising to return for lunch.
Of course this is the moment when his twin arrives also accompanied by a servant. They have been searching for years and deem this town to be near the end of the search possibilities. We know they are from another region as the servant’s dialect is not local. It’s an interesting effect and I suppose the Brooklyn accent is as good as any.
Soon the mix up has everyone tied up in knots and it seems comical that they never suspect the other twin may be in town. Indeed, it falls to the servants to unravel the puzzle. It’s ninety minutes of hijinks and hilarity but all’s well in the end.
This is a tight and well-honed ensemble who manage to perform this very physical play with wit, style, and impeccable timing. They are terrific.
Finally, with all the clowning and kookiness that makes up this production, at its heart this is also an impressive peek into theatre history. We were able to glimpse a Roman comedy dressed up with splotches of Middle Ages traveling troupe characterization and plopped smack on a university stage for us to see today. Amazing.
The Menaechmus Brothers continues November 16, 17 and 18. For information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-6520.