FEATURES ROMAN STAGINGS:
By Mary-Kay Gamel
University of California
I have nothing but praise for these accounts of innovative productions, all of which demonstrate the theatrical vitality of Plautus when imaginatively adapted to local, contemporary conditions. Such adaptations, far from being a perversion of the original, are more 'accurate' and 'faithful' than useless attempts to replicate the original conditions of performance. I confess I came with a certain prejudice against performing ancient drama in Greek or Latin, but Sparks and Groton have changed my mind.
As my contribution to this panel I suggest that the continued vitality
and usefulness of the themes and theatrical techniques of New Comedy are
demonstrated nightly on television and on the movie screen. Only one classicist
seems to have discussed this: David Konstan in 'The Premises of Comedy'
in *The Journal of Popular Film and Television* 15 (1988). The points
of comparison are many:
Like all commercial television, these programs are designed to sell products, but the big product being sold is the stability, vitality, fairness, appeal of American social and economic institutions. As a concrete example I propose a film version of the sitcom plot, the resolution of 'Moonstruck', (1987, written by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Norman Jewison). Like Plautus' plays, this film is considerably more complex and elegant than most TV sitcoms. Problems are rampant in the Castorini family: Loretta, close to old-maidhood, agrees to marry Johnny Camereri when he returns from his mother's funeral in Sicily, but while he is away falls in love with his brother Ronnie; meanwhile, her father is having an affair of which her mother is painfully aware. In the final scene, with all the major characters gathered in the family kitchen, all the problems are resolved in an conclusion as satisfying as it is preposterous.
'Moonstruck' works, I suggest, because Italo-Americans (like Plautus' Greeks) are just exotic enough to make their odd living arrangements-three generations in one house), beliefs and superstitions ('bad luck', curses which work), larger-than-life passions, and self-dramatization-believable. Meanwhile, frequent metatheatrical references (especially the visual and aural references to Puccini's La Boheme which run throughout the film) remind the audience that they are viewing a representation. Unlike sitcoms, but like such bittersweet Plautus plays as Amphitruo and Captivi, 'Moonstruck' acknowledges that its happy resolution is only possible in a representation.
University of California
(Mary-Kay Gamel has produced several adaptations of Greek plays at UC Santa Cruz.)