By Gaius Petronius
Adapted to the stage by Mark-Brian Sonna
Director - Mark-Brian Sonna
Production Assistant - Dylan Peck
Lighting and Costume Design - Alejandro de la Costa
Set and Props - Larry E. Groseclose
Production Consultant - Charles Ballinger
Music Design - Mark-Brian Sonna
Encolpius - Philip Gage
Luscina, Liamora, Circe - Sara "Ragsy" Ragsdale
Ascyltos, Lichas - Dillon M. Ford
Giton - Josh Lofty
Quartilla, Fortunata, Tryphanea, Chrysis - Emily Murphy
Appetizer, Seleucus, Eumolpus - Dylan Peck
Trimalchio - Mark-Brian Sonna
Phileros, Oenothea - Megan Duelm
Reviewed Performance 7/23/2011
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
When Oscar Wilde said, "Nothing succeeds like excess", he could have been speaking of the Satyricon by Petronius. These fragments of what has been called the first extant novel have endured over the centuries for obvious reasons. They give us insight into the everyday life of ancient Rome as well as tantalizing glimpses into the excessive nature of Nero's court. Each new generation that reads these fragments seems to acknowledge the relevance and recognize themselves ? or other people! As advisor to the emperor in matters of luxury and extravagance, Petronius knew whereof he wrote!
Hailed over the centuries not only as an historical document but also as offensive, filthy, delightful, scandalous, bawdy and shockingly rude (to quote the publicity), it seems the perfect material for MBS Productions, a theatre group taking pride on being in the forefront of the local theatre scene that dedicates itself to new works for a discerning audience.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of this production is very fittingly the script. In adapting Petronius for the stage, Mr. Sonna wisely chooses to use the central character of Encolpius as narrator to guide us through the action. Having never read anything but chapter by chapter synopses of the Satyricon, I cannot say how much of any particular translation Mr. Sonna uses and how much may be his own, but he smoothly segues between each sequence and keeps us intrigued. The pace of the show is swift and keeps the story moving as do the actions of the performers. The script is funny, literate and yes, on occasion, a little risqu?. The publicity for the show seems to focus on the "shocking" qualities, but frankly with reality TV, the daily news and Judd Apatow rip-offs at the multiplex trying to out-gross each other, pun intended, none of it seems particularly shocking to me, but then maybe I'm just jaded!
Of the actors, Philip Gage as Encolpius is literally never off-stage and manages to keep the show moving with his energy and likeability. He's too young for the role and not really that believable as a former gladiator (especially if you watch "Spartacus", et al!) but he pulls off a difficult job with a good voice and fine stage presence. Some of the satire and even pathos probably works better with an older actor, but it is to his credit that we go along with him and stay involved.
Dillon M. Ford is fine as Ascyltos and makes a nice contrast physically to Mr. Gage. Thanks to Mr. Ford the interplay seems natural and easy as it should be for two men who've known each other for a while and share the physical favors of a slave boy! In the second act when he returns as Lichas he isn't quite as believable, stretching, it seems, to try to create a character different from the one he presents so well in the first act.
Giton the slave boy at the center (literally!) of lots of the action, in the first act especially, is played by Josh Lofty wearing hot pink body makeup and tattoos! His main job is to look desirable, young and subservient, and he manages to do it well by avoiding what actors call "commenting on the character," that is giving sly looks or actions toward the audience indicating that he's really just acting and isn't it fun to pretend.
Mr. Sonna makes an appearance as Trimalchio, the host of the feast (which makes up a large portion of Fellini's movie version of this story), and as host, his acting is assured and confident, always a good thing that helps the audience relax and enjoy the show. He also uses the role to welcome us to the theatre and makes the entire evening feel like we are his guests.
Dylan Peck runs the gamut from the "Appetizer" at the feast to the wealthy old man with the fabulous art collection who ends up joining in the adventures of the three first act principles. This last character is his most effective, and the long monologues, the awful poem he recites, and the story of the widow are impressive in their very length. He manages to deliver all of these with alacrity and presence. Perhaps the movements of his older character get a little repetitive but we are intrigued by what he's saying.
The ladies have less to do, especially in the first act, but each makes her mark in her own way. Emily Murphy plays a succession of lascivious women and attacks each one with abandon and flashy costumes. Sara "Ragsy" Ragsdale also seems to have a good time as she assumes various women in the life of Encolpius.
It is Megan Duelm who surprises and delights as the graceful woman in the mimed story of the widow and then brings down the house as the old witch Oenothea with her walk, her innuendos, and her no-nonsense "cure" for the curse of Priapus! Ouch!
The set by Larry E. Groseclose is simple and effective: a bed upstage, some carpets downstage with pillows scattered around, a red velvet drape on the back wall, more drapes on the rafters, and a wonderful screen that looks like it came straight out of an Aubrey Beardsley drawing. The set serves for many locations and thanks to Mr. Sonna's direction, by simply moving around the space, the actors manage to convey each one.
The entire production is very colorful with Alejandro de la Costa's costumes adding exclamation points in brilliant hues. Most of these work very well though a few look like leftovers from a toga party and rather slapdash. In all, they brighten the picture and keep it visually interesting.
On a constructive note, it seems to me that this society's decadence would be better reflected by a more mature group of actors with less reliance on stereotypes. In several cases, acting choices that were not so obvious would be more engrossing to watch. Less one-dimensional male characters casually discussing and engaging in intimate acts with other men - and women - would add depth to the social commentary and avoid the clich? of decadence, excess, and an "alternative lifestyle" being automatically linked. The youthful cast lacks a certain "world-weariness" that might enrich the sub-text of the tale.
Going for the easy choice and the easy laugh can sometimes result in a lack of interesting layers. (On a side note, Priapus should be pronounced Pri-A-pus: long "I", long "A" with stress on the second syllable, Giton would be a hard "G", long "I", and stressed on the first syllable, and Ovid is pronounced Ah-vid. Thanks to Classical Latin pronunciation sound bites from Google!)
But in spite of that, the script is strong and engaging, the energy of the cast infectious and winning, and the "scandalous" scenes of intimacy are handled with humor and physical agility and no more offensive than they should be! You won't be disappointed visiting this vision of ancient Rome at the Stone Cottage courtesy of MBS Productions, and we are fortunate to have a theatre company like this one creating new works and pushing boundaries.
at The Stone Cottage Theatre
15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Runs through August 13th
Tickets are $18.oo Thursdays, $21.00 Fridays and $22.00 Saturdays. All performances are at 8:00 pm
Ticket purchases and information can be found at www.MBSProduction.net or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 214-477-4942.