Between Oct. 8 and Oct. 19, the CofC Department of Theatre and Dance hosted the David L. Shelton Playwriting Award and NAPAT National KC/ACTF award winning production “Bread and Circuses” by alumnus Edward Pretch ’14. The production was directed by Todd McNerney and took place in the Chapel Theatre within the Calhoun Annex.
“Bread and Circuses” is an ancient figure of speech originating in satirist and poet Juvenal’s Satire X, commenting on the superficial means of appeasement. Roman politicians of the time (circa A.D 100) would attempt to please the masses through cheap thrills and cheaper food, furthering their political advantage. Pleasure derived from the these diversions were seen as mere distractions, temporary and fueled by selfishness.
Combining these ideas with several parts absurdism and a healthy dose of comedy, the play focuses on the struggling nobody Daniel Rosencrantz, played by senior theatre major Trevor Cataleno, and his quest to work his way into the foreign world of performance arts in order to win the heart of star actor Thalia, played by sophomore Addison Brown. The bumbling hero fibs about his performing merits, leaving Thalia with the impression that he is going to try out for the upcoming “Romeo and Juliet” play hosted by a local theatre. Unfortunately, Rosencrantz’s acting history is overwrought with embarrassment and incident, leaving him a stammering, stage-fraught shut in with severe anxiety. However, this all takes a dramatic turn when he is convinced by his roommate Robin, played absolutely wonderfully by senior Anderson Haney, to take Dionysus Blowjob, a special drug suited to increase the acting chops of those who take it.
What follows is an absurd, drug induced trip of a production focusing on Rosencrantz’s descent into the madness of theatre. Guided by a mischievous puppet named Mummer, he is visited by a number of theatre legends, from Shakespeare to Anton Chekhov, who endeavor to teach him their (often conflicting) methods of acting and thoughts of theatre. Reality peels away from Rosencrantz as he becomes painfully aware of his situation, breaking the fourth wall by noticing that he is, in fact, on stage in front of an audience, often to extreme comedic effect.
One of the funnier scenes comes when Rosencrantz is visited by the three headed aberration consisting of theatre theorists Strasberg, Stanislavski, and Miesner, played by Clyde Moser, Danielle Rackley, and Juliana Wessman respectively. Bedecked in frog, shark and fish masks, the conjoined trio bickers and banters back and forth through an increasingly absurd dissertation on their preferred acting methods. The humor was colorful, bright and the audience reacted just as you’d expect.
The theme of romantic love is woven throughout the production, powered by the allusions to “Romeo and Juliet.” However, the romantic notions eventually fall away, switching to the deeper and personal love for theatre Rosencrantz finds within himself. As Rosencrantz succumbs to the pressures of his changing life, losing his house, losing his job, gaining a blackened set of clothes from a laundry malfunction and his missed opportunities with Thalia and the play, he is soon comforted when he realizes that he’s never been happier.
Rosencrantz spends the entirety of the play focusing on gaining affection from the attractive Thalia, however the antics that follow show that this and the problems that come with it are simply “bread and circuses” — both temporary and shallow. The play transforms itself into a love story for theatre, an incredibly personal journey powered by writer Edward Precht’s own experiences traveling in it himself.
For more info on CofC’s Department of Theatre and Dance, as well as upcoming productions and tickets, visit their website here!