Here is Chris Bungard's write-up of his recent production of Plautus' stunning and surprising play Truculentus.
Empowering Plautus’ Women
Following a sabbatical translating Plautus’ Truculentus, I had the good privilege to see it come to life when the Butler University Theatre Department agreed to stage it. Since the students in that department are predominantly women, and almost all of the men would be needed for the other main production (Our Town), a happy accident occurred where the play would be performed by an all female cast under the marvelous direction of Bart Simpson.
I can think of few better plays of Plautus for an all-female production. Despite being named Truculentus, the play focuses primarily on the meretrix Phronesium and her ancilla Astaphium as they deftly ply their trade in order to procure the goods of three men, a city lad, a mercenary soldier, and country boy—eager for the opportunity to squander his father’s goods in the elegance of the city. The men cycle on and off stage, overly eager to enjoy some time with Phronesium while being ushered off stage in favor of the latest guest who has new resources to give. At the end of the play, the meretrix calls the shots as she invites the soldier and the country boy to share her company.
Despite having only 15 rehearsals (including a weeklong break to provide tech crew for Our Town and a week at Thanksgiving), and despite figuring out how to negotiate half-masks and musical cues from a live musician, the actors managed to put on a full production, off book thanks to the brilliant work of Bart Simpson, invited by the Theatre Department to tackle this show. What emerged was a show that sat comfortably in the modern and ancient world simultaneously. The costumes were largely modern in nature while the draping element suggested a previous time. There was music to set the tone of a scene, but the musician was right there, at times interfering with the characters. The actors could use the lower face to express themselves as they normally would, but the masks denied them the expressiveness of the eyes.
In the end, the show sold out its three-show run with packed houses, even packing the final dress rehearsal when we knew there would not be enough seats for all the students on campus interested in seeing the show, and the actors loved having had the opportunity to act in a theatrical style that they would likely not have had the chance to explore otherwise.