University Theatre’s most recent production, Aphra Behn’s Emperor of the Moon, was a fresh and wonderful take on Restoration-era theatre from the 1600s. Due to its use of Early Modern English, Restoration theatre has a reputation for being difficult to comprehend. This version of Emperor was a great melding of classical theatre and modern techniques like Avant Garde theatre from the 1960s.
Audience members were greeted by the cast flitting about the black box Hope Theater on Saturday night as quiet EDM music was played over the loudspeakers. The actors created this commotion in their period-specific costumes and provided a jarring but fun introduction to the play’s whimsical aesthetic.
A round screen above the stage displayed an image of the moon. Between every scene, the moon turned to reveal its dark side: clock gears signifying the passage of time. These scene changes provided rest so the audience members could comprehend what had just happened in the fast-paced moments before.
Emperor merged both improvisational moments and audience participation with Shakespearean-style language, but those characteristics complemented one another.
The vibrant comedy was largely driven by characters such as Scaramouche (played by Connor French) and Harlequin (Mackenzie Utz), servants to the boastful and imaginatory Dr. Baliardo (Aimee Hamilton).
Dr. Baliardo believes there’s a civilization on the moon. She won’t let her niece and daughter marry the men whom they choose. With the help of Scaramouche, Harlequin and another servant, the feisty Mosophil (Nicolette Zaretsky), the group plots to convince Dr. Baliardo that the two suitors are from the moon so that the couples can marry.
There’s a wild subplot with Scaramouche and Harlequin both seeking to woo Mosophil, who has no interest in either of the men. This love triangle had many great comedic moments in it, including a sword-turned-dance battle and campy calls for audience participation.
In an attempt to make the play relatable and to highlight the comedic influence of a fast-paced style known as Commedia Dell’arte, some jokes and gimmicks were changed to modern allusions. For instance, there’s mention of the Twilight Saga and hashtags. There were intentional anachronisms here and there, such as red Solo cups in a party scene, but those moments didn’t feel too gimmicky or tacked on.
Despite these modern influences, the timeliness of the costumes and setting was perfect for the show’s origins. The women were dressed in gowns and corsets that had intricate beading and designs, while the men’s costumes featured wigs and velvety, textured fabric.
Director J.K. Rodgers’ vision for the show was specific and well-thought out. Laughter rang throughout the theater as the show progressed to its final moments, providing a comforting and wild world to exist in if only for two hours.