BWW Reviews: THE MERCHANT at George Mason University Shines with Enjoyable Foolishness
Anyone in the mood for feel-good silliness can find it for the next few days at the Harris Theater, at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, where the school of theater and the Mason Players are presenting "The Merchant." Local professional actor and GMU associate professor Edward Gero both directed the production and wrote it; he adapted Titus Maccius Plautus's ancient comedy and added songs from the early 20th century.
Part vaudeville show, part farce, and part "Saturday Night Live," "The Merchant" actually has a plot, but the plot matters less than the groan-worthy puns (most of them at least PG-13), the clever dance routines, and the general pandemonium caused by a series of wholly improbable misunderstandings. Although portions of the first act drag, the second brings in three new characters, each of whom threatens to steal the show. The second act also contains a brilliant scene involving a chariot pulled by four human "horses," in which the chariot speeds homeward while dodging traffic projected behind in the form of a silent movie.
The ensemble cast consists entirely of GMU undergraduates, most of them theater majors. Professor Gero indicated that this production differs significantly from most of what the students learn in their theater classes, where they study method acting and are primarily exposed to serious plays. He said that "The Merchant" is closer to stand-up comedy.
Throughout much of the show, the performers break the "fourth wall," addressing the audience members and commenting on their reactions. Chris Hrozencik, a freshman theater major, who plays the nerdy Eutychus, complete with thick glasses, said that every joke is "bam bam." Becca Ward, a senior English major and theater minor, said that her background in improvisation helped her prepare for her role as Syra, a self-aware slave.
The action takes place in ancient Athens or Rome or in a city in the United States in the 1920's - the costumes, scenery, character names, and place names conflict with each other, adding to the sense of absurdity. The plot, such as it is, involves a young man, Charinus, who sails off for two years on his father's merchant ship. He falls in love with Pasicompsa, a courtesan who is also a slave, and buys her to take her home and marry her. However, when he arrives, his father, Demipho, also falls for Pasicompsa, not knowing that his son loves her. Demipho doesn't want his wife to find out about his wandering eye, so he asks his neighbor, Lysimachus, to buy Pasicompsa. Meanwhile, Charinus is heartbroken because his beloved has disappeared. Lysimachus winds up in trouble with his shrewish wife, Dorippa, of whom he is terrified, when she comes home from a trip and finds Pasicompsa in her house.
Professor Gero said that vaudeville grew out of ancient Roman comedy for the plebeians - low-brow entertainment. His adaptation, however, despite its frequent references to sex and bodily functions, is anything but plebeian; the puns are too clever and the scenery, costumes, and hair design too ingenious for the production to be dismissed as appealing only to unsophisticated audiences.
"The Merchant's" final performances will take place on Friday, November 1, 2013 and Saturday, November 2nd at 8:00 p.m., and on Saturday, November 2nd and Sunday, November 3rd at 2:00 p.m., at the Harris Theater, on the GMU campus. Tickets are $20 for adults, and $15 for students and seniors. Further information is available at http://cfa.gmu.edu/calendar/1490/
Photos by Ruthie Rado.
Zachary Wilcox, Emily Berry, Nerissa Hart as Acanthio, Jessica Dubish, Matt Succi
Scott Blamphin as Demipho; Collin Reilly as Charinus
Rachel Harrington as Dorippa
Justin Sumblin as The Cook; Ronald Boykin as Lysimachus
Jessica Dubish, Mattsucci, Sachary Wilcox, Cynthis Newby as Pasicompsa, Emily Berry