"The Mandrake" (with Changes)

So a couple weeks ago I mentioned that the University of Georgia was doing a highly unusual take on Machiavelli's "The Mandrake":
This being 2016 in America, the opera will not be performed with the original music.
“We’ve made them rap songs with lots of stomps and percussion type beats,” Marotta said.
And this being 2016 on an American college campus, the opera will be cast in order to make a point about gender.
In order to change up the stereotypes and force the audience to ask deeper questions about power play and gender roles, all of the male roles will be played by women and all the women roles are to be played by puppets.
Out of curiosity, I went to see the UGA production yesterday afternoon. I have the following to report:

1) I am forced to conclude that the claim that their intention in selecting an all-female cast was to "force the audience to ask deeper questions about power play and gender roles" was a lie to protect the play from university censorship. The play was 90 minutes of intensely raunchy, bawdy humor. They stole the 'ongoing urination' joke from Austin Powers. They had a scene with disguises in which a priest was carrying walnuts in his mouth 'to disguise his voice,' which they turned into a three-minute long routine about one of the characters desiring 'nuts in my mouth' ("I have some," replied another character, "but they're a little bit salty").

My sense is that you couldn't have run the same play with the same jokes with a male/female cast on the contemporary university campus. Run the same jokes with an all-female cast, under the banner of 'forcing the audience' to do difficult conceptual work, and no censors even cast their eyes in its direction.

2) The "rap" music was a bad idea. Possibly this was because the cast, in addition to being all-female, was all-white-female. In addition to not being very good at writing hip-hop music, their voices lacked the strength and range to be intelligible over the stomping and clapping. Neither I nor my wife could actually understand anything they were saying during these routines.

3) It turns out that Machiavelli gave by far the strongest lines in the whole play to the young wife. The only time in the entire play that anyone stands up for what is right and invokes morality without any shade of self-interest is her monologue. It comes right after she submits to her (bribed) priest's advice that she go along with the plan. In the monologue, she says that she hopes that if his advice (which includes adultery that will lead to the death of an innocent) is coming from any sort of admixture of self-interest or faithlessness, then that she calls on all the demons of Hell to make sure that his soul is planted right beside hers so that she can watch him suffer for all eternity. It's really powerful stuff.

Because of their casting decisions, this speech -- the moral heart of the story -- was delivered by a one-and-a-half-foot tall puppet.

4) There were the expected number of jokes at the expense of Catholics and Republicans written into the play. FOX News and Donald Trump came in for special mention. The priest was supposedly bisexual and dissolute as well as corrupt. Just as you couldn't have run this play with a male/female cast without drawing university censorship, you couldn't have run the same jokes pointed at Islamic clergy without drawing down a university ban. Aimed at Catholic and conservative American targets, though, these jokes are perfectly safe.

5) Two jokes were aimed at the fear of giving offense in sexual matters on the university campus. These were both funny and well-received by the audience. The first involved the question of whether a meeting was properly described as a rendezvous -- no, said one character, 'because that sounds sexual, and you didn't obtain our consent!' The other was delivered when a character, disguised as a pirate, was singing a song that went, 'We say yo-ho-ho, but we don't say 'ho,' because that would be disrespect-ful.'

In spite of everything, it wasn't the worst 90 minutes of my life. I doubt I would take the opportunity to go see it again, but the actresses were clearly enjoying themselves so it was at least somewhat fun to watch. They played to and with the audience -- if you were in the front row of any of the seats, and they had seats on three sides of the stage, you would likely be involved in the play at some point. The performance was packed, too, at the Sunday afternoon matinee that was also its final performance. Clearly they had crafted something that was very popular for their intended audience.


raven said...

"In spite of everything, it wasn't the worst 90 minutes of my life"


Grim said...

They had really gotten into the spirit of the thing in a way. By deceiving their University masters so they could have a sex-filled romp, they were in fact engaged in exactly the kind of behavior the original play parodies. :)

Anonymous said...

I warned you, but did anyone listen? they should of used the reverend instead of rap...........

Grim said...

I agreed with you. I just didn't think it would be in the budget. :)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

So they wrote above-average sorority skits based on Machiavelli.

Ymar Sakar said...

Sometimes the French nationalists may have been right, a few times, with that guillotine of theirs. At least I understand part of Robespierre's point of view, now at least.