The Busy Body

22539000_1625142317538422_1922857777296597990_oPeople, in a singular sense, can change. According to centuries of written narrative, however, people collectively tend not to. No matter the time or place in human history, we have our tropes. There is always the young couple deeply in love, but forced apart by a more powerful exterior force. There is always the selfish, wealthy old man who takes advantage of the less fortunate. There is always the lustful idiot. Crucially, in-between it all, there is also always the Marplot.

The Red Masquers’ production of Susanna Centlivre’s The Busy Body, a farcical comedy originally penned in the 1700s, is a fun, breezy take on a generally under-looked play. Any production of a classic runs the risk of feeling stuffy, but thanks to some free-flowing performances and John E. Lane Jr.’s almost casual sense of direction, The Busy Body is able to be both accessible and occasionally even prescient in its comedy.

Like a lot of similar works, we follow two young couples whose love is restricted by their society; there are also a ton of characters and motivations to keep in mind at any given moment. There is Sir George (Nathaniel Yost), who sets the play’s tone by waxing poetic to Charles (Evan W. Saunders) about his visible erection. These men are fairly stupid, unflappably earnest, and desperately horny for Miranda (Amy Dick) and Isabinda (Sadie Crow) respectively.

Miranda is crafty, and spends the play’s opening act inventing a second persona to attract Sir George intellectually as well as physically. There is a plot reason for this, but in reality the entire purpose for her to do this is to create situations in which we laugh at George, because he is, like I said, fairly stupid.

Isabinda, meanwhile, is about to be married off to an anonymous Spanish merchant because her father happened to enjoy a trip there. Sadie Crow’s performance here is the most complete interpretation of matured teenage angst. When explaining her situation to others, she adopts this detesting thousand yard stare and shudders at the potential reality of the forced marriage, the Spanish merchant, and the very idea of Spain as an entity itself; the word “Spain” is not spoken so much as it is expelled from her like a sickness.

These four are not the most original protagonists, but Centlivre’s satire is built on wit that’s as blunt as a hammer, to the point of genre deconstruction. The play’s antagonists are two Seussian rich, old white men literally named Sir Gripe (Jay Keenan) and Sir Jealous Traffick (Nathan Freshwater). Gripe has no other intentions than to be the richest and most powerful individual in the play, and therefore has little to nothing in terms of complexity. As played by Jay Keenan, he is also one of the best parts of this production. Keenan imbues the character with an inexhaustible smarmy energy that breaths a lot of energy into scenes that are too dense with plot otherwise. He leans almost entirely into the character’s shrewdness, and we therefore never see the him as physically imposing to Miranda, which lightens up scenes that would otherwise significantly darken the play’s tone.

Jealous Traffick, meanwhile, is a more imposing figure, and his psychotic determination to maintain his daughter’s sexual purity are a grim if hilarious reminder of the effects of sexual repression. I quite liked Nathan Freshwater’s take on the character, who plays Jealous Traffick like a devout social conservative who has never reflected on his beliefs until this very moment in which he’s being challenged, like a sheltered kid during his first week in a college dorm or a far-right radio talk show host.

Tim Colbert’s bubbly, well-intentioned Marplot is The Busy Body’s greatest character. He is the titular busy body, and creates an endless amount of chaos via his need to help. Marplot, despite being utterly and infuriatingly hapless, is so warmhearted and abused that it’s hard not to root for him through each and every awful mistake he makes. He is the play’s weird little brother, and, sure, a little Marplot goes a long way, but The Busy Body would be painfully straightforward without him.

Like many of the more classically-minded farces, The Busy Body inevitably gets buried under its own plot. This is an area where Red Masquers’ production favorably compares to other restoration era shows. The intent isn’t so much to slavishly devote itself to period detail or to dynamically reinterpret its source material, but instead to extract as much of the play’s inherent sense of fun through performances that are big and goofy, but also smart. There are a lot of ways to interpret these characters, and the cast never makes choices that take away from the show’s inherent playfulness.

That said, there’s little in the way of extra flavor. Stage design is as minimal as humanly possible, and the play is paced rather quickly for its density. The Busy Body is good at what it does, but what you see is what you get, too. Theatergoers new to the era might have some trouble keeping up without a Wikipedia article at the ready during intermission, but seasoned veterans will enjoy a production that thoroughly understands what makes Centlivre’s comedy work.

They Busy Body runs at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theatre through November 12. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Duquesne Red Masquers’ Ambitious 105th Season

105Pittsburgh’s oldest amateur theatre company, The Duquesne Red Masquers has quite the ambitious upcoming 105th season. Orphie and the Book of Heroes, The Busy Body, Macbeth and Equus would be a challenge for any professionally staffed company let alone a university company. Nathaniel Yost, Red Masquers’ President says “This upcoming season is going to be fantastic!”

The Red Masquers’ roots go back to the late 1800s. The company provides an opportunity for students to learn about and participate in theater regardless of their major, background or experience.

I asked Yost how they picked their choices for such a challenging season. “The Red Masquers, as part of a university theater program, has several missions to fill. The group presents plays from a wide spectrum of historical eras, styles, and types of drama. We try to choose plays that will be incorporated into class offerings in the semester that the works are being presented. We are also committed to developing and promoting new works of art, and we usually produce one world premiere a season. This year’s season was selected to showcase our talented seniors and alumni, as well as, co-ordinate with The National Conference of 18th Century Women Writers that will be hosted by Duquesne University.”

dasfefeOpening this season is Orphie and the Book of Heroes! a new musical by Duquesne alumnus Christopher Dimond.  Orphie was commissioned for and premiered at the Kennedy Center. This will be only the fourth production of the new musical. Jill Jeffrey who is Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Gemini Children’s Theatre directs. The musical follows the story of a young girl in Ancient Greece, who is obsessed with the stories that her guardian Homer has told her. She longs, though, to hear a story about a hero like her, a Great Girl Hero. When Homer is taken from her, Orphie sets out on a quest to rescue him from the Underworld, and discovers that the hero she’s been looking for might be closer than she thought. This one-act musical is filled with humor, unexpected character twists, and fun mash-ups of Greek Culture and our modern world. Orphie and the Book of Heroes is an entertaining musical for all ages.

Next is The Busy Body directed by John E. Lane, Jr., Director of Duquesne University’s Theatre Arts program.  Susanna Centlivre’s play is a fast-paced comedy with a good measure of wit. It is a laugh-out-loud, one-of-a-kind, social satire about people who can’t mind their own business. The Busy Body comes from one of the great female playwrights of the 18th century and is simply one of the most successful comedies of intrigue from its time.

The Busy Body, will be offered for The National Conference of 18th Century Women Writers.

The Red Masquers will produce One Acts for Charity. This is a group of one act plays directed and performed by the students of the university. The money donated during these shows benefits a local charity that will be revealed at a later date.

The second semester starts off with Shakespeare’s Macbeth which is directed by Duquesne senior Dora Farona! The “Scottish play” is a classical masterpiece of the macabre. Macbeth transforms as he resists and gives way to his ambitious urges, which lead him to be tempted into committing heinous acts. It is a dark and bloody show, filled with rage, grief, and an unquenchable thirst for power.

Macbeth will be the senior thesis project for several of the Theater Arts majors, Director Dora Farona, actor Nathaniel Yost (Macbeth), and Sound Designer, Anna Cunningham.

Following Macbeth, is Equus written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Justin Sines who also Serves as Technical Director of the Genesius Theatre at Duquesne and who also directs for Pittsburgh’s Summer Company. This stage show, which won winner 1975 Tony Award for Best Play, tells the story of a psychiatrist who attempts to treat a young man who has a pathological religious fascination with horses.

Equus rounds out the season as a thought-provoking, modern play that challenges young scholars about both social structures and the nature of passion.

Finally, the Red Masquers close off their season with Premieres XLI! Premieres offers a time for any current student or faculty member to see their work on stage. After the plays are chosen by the directors, productions will begin with a collaborative process between the actors, directors, and writers. This will be directed and performed by students of the university.

The Red Masquers have a jam-packed season, everyone is invited to come enjoy some interesting theatre.

Tickets can be purchased at http://www.duqredmasquers.com/purchase-tickets

All productions are at the Genesius Theatre on the Duquesne University campus.