In the mood for a mashup? David Minton has an idea.
Take 80 energetic theater kids, add a fluffy Shakespeare comedy, a set full of Ionic columns, closing-and-opening doors à la British drawing-room farce—then toss in Oedipus, Antigone and Monty Python and voilà! You have “The Comedy of Errors…at Colonus!”—the recently-adapted-by-Minton play at Lumina Studio Theatre.
“I think mashup is just about the perfect word for it,” said Minton, Lumina’s artistic and artistic director as well as the director of the show at the Silver Spring Black Box through Dec. 11. “The style of it is sort of like ‘Duck Soup’ by the Marx Brothers. It’s zany, it’s absolutely silly, it’s what some might call ‘idiot humor.’
“We’re taking comedy to its ridiculous extreme, beyond the fringe of what the play really is.”
What the play really is is a mistaken identity comedy, something Shakespeare scholar Minton pointed out that the Bard did quite beautifully in the later-in-his-career (1601) masterpiece “Twelfth Night.” In 1594’s “Comedy of Errors,” Minton said, the uber-coincidental mistaken identity (featuring two sets of twins separated at birth) is just for over-the-top fun.
“It’s a very silly but very successful play,” he added. “It’s been done for years—that one joke has some legs to it—but I decided to mess with it, and that’s what we have here.”
As much as Minton loves Shakespeare—and he does—he loves this kind of “subversive messing with the classics,” too.
“I’ve always been a fan of the great physical comics: The Flying Karamazov Brothers—you know, the jugglers—Monty Python and the Marx Brothers,” he said. “In this case, I had the idea that because, technically, ‘Comedy of Errors’ takes place more or less in ancient Greece—in Ephesus and Syracuse—wouldn’t it be interesting to mix an obvious comedy with its opposite: one of the best known ancient tragedies of all time, Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex,’ and that whole cycle: ‘Oedipus Rex,’ ‘Antigone’ and ‘Oedipus at Colonus.’
“I thought, well this is kind of fun. It’s ancient Greece, so I’ll have those characters meet up and interact. It’s a total parody of Greek theater, with the conventions of the Greek chorus, and Oedipus himself and his family.”
If it sounds complex and challenging, especially with a cast and crew of 80 young actors with varying levels of experience, it is. But Minton, who joined Lumina in 2000 as a co-director just three years after the studio moved from New York City, has been doing this sort of thing for quite a while.
“Lumina was started by my late wife Jillian Raye in New York,” he explained. “Jill founded Lumina in Brooklyn in 1995 as a program for young actors. When I changed jobs and went to work for Liz Lerman Dance Exchange as managing director and we moved down here, Jill decided she would start Lumina over again.”
Raye, he said, had a varied and extensive background. “She was a ballet soloist with Ballet Victoria in Australia and had years of vocal training as well. She was a professional actress who loved working with young actors, and this was a program she really felt was important for our area.”
More than 20 years later, Minton still agrees. He feels that young people bring something unique to the stage when they undertake the works of Shakespeare, and it’s his goal—and Raye’s legacy—to get the Lumina Studio kids on the stage, performing. Lumina doesn’t advertise, he added; kids tend to gravitate from the audience to the stage.
“When they see a show they go, ‘Wow, that was good. I want to be a part of it.’
“This is the only program that I know of where the whole point of the young actors doing theater is to perform,” he said. “It’s not a process-oriented program: We do Shakespeare, and we do it legit.”
Well, as legit as a mashup can possibly get. In Minton’s adaptation, the set, with its faux ancient temple, pillars and statuary, is more evocative of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” than “Julius Caesar”—and even Sophocles gets a relatively happy ending. The whole thing is silly and a farce, he said, but there’s plenty of political humor, current events, character interactions and fast, physical slapstick comedy—perfect for an energetic ensemble of young performers.
“These kids have a grounding in mythology, and they understand what it means when something serious becomes silly,” he said. “Mel Brooks once said, ‘You need a hard wall to bounce your rubber ball of comedy against.’
“You kind of need that serious backdrop. ‘Blazing Saddles’ and ‘Young Frankenstein’ are all about that.”
And up against the “serious backdrop” of Shakespeare, with his unique style of language and timing, Minton says the performers are happy to insert some humor, to bounce their own unique rubber ball.
“Quite a few young people actually love Shakespeare,” he added. “The discipline of doing plays that were done 400 years ago and will be done 400 years from now. It’s a grand tradition and our actors are part of that—that’s what we see going forward.”
Lumina Studio Theater presents “Comedy of Errors…at Colonus” through Dec. 11 at the Silver Spring Black Box Theater, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. For tickets–$15; $10 for retirees and students,18 and younger—visit Brownpapertickets.com or www.luminastudio.org. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.