Mixed-Up Twins Translated Again
“The Brothers Menaechmi” was the earliest origin of the ripest opportunity for comedy: doppelgänger mayhem. It details the travails of two identical persons who are mistaken for one another. Shakespeare generously retold the story in “The Comedy of Errors,” and even in dramatic workS such as the movie “The Prestige,” the premise is familiar and almost now predictable. But in the Harvard Classical Club’s translation of “Brothers,” which played in the Adams Pool Theatre through Sunday, the updated script refreshed the oft-used dramatic scenario. Instead of coming off dry or overdone, the re-translated script did an excellent job of eliciting laughter, although the updated jokes and tone did present some structural difficulties. But with few exceptions, the driving spirit behind the production and a carefully refined rewrite that allowed the actors to flourish created an accessible version of the original play.
Separated after a convoluted series of events explained in the prologue by a nerdy narrator (director Gus A. Mayopoulus ’15), the twin brothers carve out a life under the same name in two cities: Epidamnus and Sosicles. The twin from Epidamnus (Joe B. Lorenz) has become a wealthy merchant with imperious wife Matrona (Karoline K. Xu ’16), gold-digging mistress Erotium (Madison M. Dildine ’16), and gluttonous hanger-on Pug, a.k.a. “The Parasite” (Alexander J. Iascone ’16), in tow. The twin from Sosicles (Ivo B. Baca ’13) visits Epidamnus with his manservant Messenio (Todd E. Jones ’16) in search of his lost twin brother and is mistaken for said brother. Commence the comedy.
The update of “Menaechmi” drew from internet memes such as the dramatic chipmunk—one of many examples that play on Plautus’s relatively transparent fourth wall—as well as fairly brushed over references from “Holy Musical B@man!” to “Oedipus Rex.” Along with the cultural deluge, the supporting cast was also given much more room to breathe than in the original script: Pug carried some textually whiny passages with bombast and Matrona ended up as a much more sympathetic wife than she appears in the original play. Messenio, Erotium, and Matrona’s father Senex (Matt J. Ciommo ’15) all delivered slightly nuanced roles as cunning slave, crafty courtesan, and crotchety old man; however, most of their character development came from staging rather than from their lines. For example, Messenio steps out of the boat during the journey to Epidamnus to give a monologue and predicts the audience’s thoughts with a nicely placed “I should probably get back into the boat now,” and Erotium is heralded with a jazzy sax entrance theme. Even though this is more attention than the original play gives them, the lesser characters’ development is used more as a tool to say “This play is self-aware.”
Profanity peppered the characters’ dialogue, and while this could have easily turned into a series of easy laughs, it was consistent enough to merely convey the less-elevated feel of the original play. Several other anachronisms were thrown in, including many hilarious sequences where Epidamnus’s slaves would trudge across the stage when referred to or the lovely, unexpected shouts of “Slaves on three... One, two, three, slaves!” However, the frequent expletives of “By Castor” and “By Pollux” heavy-handedly induced the same feeling as when you go back to “Prisoner of Azkaban” and wonder why you ever were surprised that the character named “Remus Lupin” was a werewolf; the expletives were too easy and eventually incredibly predictable. Sadly, the constant curses—whether mythic or merely bleep-able—did also detract slightly from Sosicles’s actual profanity to Epidamnus’s wife in the original play: “Do you know why they called Hecuba a bitch?”
The brothers Menaechmi themselves were responsible for delivering long lines essentially expressing, “you must be crazy; I did not steal your dress/eat with you/say that/do that.” However, the deviations from the script that kept a fast pace through memes, “Family Guy” levels of references, and a stream of rim-shot worthy cracks, were not kind to the two main characters. A general recurring “What the hell is going on?” was added in several times to make sure that the audience felt comfortable in being a bit confused. The update was definitely right in taking the risk of branching out and recasting the play in modern humor; however there was a lot of plot signposting left solely to the two protagonists. Lorenz as Epidamnus played an enjoyable, starry-eyed, permissibly over-acted capitalist, and Baca as Sosicles played more of a straightforward, classically inspired character weirdly reminiscent of Ben Kenobi, right down to with brushing off characters with index and middle finger together with almost every line.
With comic timing, the quick-fire pace and sure blocking allowed the production to flow freely and transcend its now-clichéd plot. While not a twin, the update of the original work recreated the levity of a hilarious misunderstanding while preserving enough of the text to seem merely referential rather than plagiaristic. If only Shakespeare could say the same.
—Staff writer Christine A. Hurd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.