University Theatre enters last weekend of ‘The Emperor of the Moon’
University Theatre’s second play of the season, The Emperor of the Moon, presents a modern twist on comedy from 1687. Playwright Aphra Behn is known in the theatre world as the female Shakespeare — she wrote in the middle to late 1600s and made a career out of playwriting before many women could write at all.
“She pretty much opened the door for women to make their living as writers,” said J.K. Rodgers, a University of Oregon Ph.D. student and director of The Emperor of the Moon. “She’s at this really interesting cusp of blazing a trail for women in theatre and women in the professional world, in general.”
At that time in history, women were not allowed to share their writing publicly, but Behn earned her living through her plays and fiction. Not only was she a trailblazing playwright, but she was also a spy for the English monarchy during the Dutch war of 1665. She also served time in debtor’s prison when she returned to England without any pay for her service.
Rodgers’ eyes lit up as she spoke about Behn’s play and her own work in theatre, something she’s been involved with since she was in kindergarten. She has since served as a dramaturge and scribe for numerous University Theatre productions, and even though she has been involved with theatre for years, her excitement for producing plays was still apparent.
“I grew up on Hamlet, the Scottish play [Macbeth], Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Rodgers said. “Probably before I hit kindergarten I knew those and then it just kind of continued.”
The Emperor of the Moon, Behn’s final play, is based on a theatre movement called Commedia’ dell’arte, a big influence on the comedy we know today. Emperor is driven by physical comedy, so audience members shouldn’t fret about the language barrier between an older version of English and modern language. Plays from the Restoration-era are also known for their use of improvisation and accessible, grand humor.
The story centers around a man named Dr. Baliardo, his daughter, and his niece. When both women fall in love with men whom Baliardo does not approve of, they decide to convince Baliardo that the men are visitors from the moon. Since know-it-all Baliardo doesn’t like regular earthlings in the first place, he willfully falls for their plot; shenanigans ensue.
Emperor’s plot is farcical, but this rendition of the play is not entirely typical. In many Restoration-era plays, actors use asides as a way of addressing what’s happening in the scene without acknowledging the rest of the characters. A great example of an aside in modern TV comes from NBC’s The Office, when the characters look into the camera.
Behn’s original production featured 30-50 cast members, but Rodgers combined characters to shrink the cast size to fit the Hope Theater, UO’s black box.
One way that Rodgers is bringing The Emperor of the Moon into the present day is by combining avant-garde theatre movements — like site-specific theatre from the 1960s — with the grandiose nature that Behn’s work is known for. Rodgers wants the Hope Theater to be an environment where the actors and the audience can intermingle.
“With a play like Emperor of the Moon, there is a lot of potential for that blurring of lines,” Rodgers said.
For instance, Behn created a part where the 12 signs of the Zodiac appear — but instead of casting 12 separate parts, Rodgers decided to fill those roles with audience members. Those who worry about being in the spotlight don’t need to fret. Rodgers noted that instead of reciting lines, audience members chosen only need to wave.
Aphra Behn’s The Emperor of the Moon runs Feb. 2-4 and the shows begin at 8 p.m. in the Hope Theater on campus. There is also a matinee performance on Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are free for students with a UO ID, and general admission tickets are $10 at www.tickets.uoregon.edu. For more information, check out the Theatre Arts department’s website at: www.blogs.uoregon.edu/theatre/.
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