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Ancient Comedy with a Modern Twist: Hilarious Est

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Thursday, March 25, 2010

The ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome may have perished centuries ago, but their comedy lives on. The Classics Department of Notre Dame is putting on a night of such comedy tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Jordan Auditorium of the Mendoza College of Business.

However, this is not going to be your typical Greco-Roman comedy; this is “Ancient Comedy with a Modern Twist,” as the event’s tagline suggests. It’s ancient comedy Notre Dame-style.

The Muses have descended upon Our Lady’s campus. Thalia in particular, the Muse of comedy, has been seen flitting around West and North Quad for weeks. She has inspired the minds of members of the Department of Classics, both professors and students. Her visits to this campus have resulted in a night of creative and humorous comedy, which would make Terence, Aristophanes or Menander proud.

The night begins with a lecture by distinguished British scholar Edith Hall. Hall specializes in the classics and cultural history. She holds a joint research chair in classics and drama at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she directs the Centre for the Reception of Greece and Rome. Notre Dame has hosted Hall a few times this semester and has benefited greatly from her expert knowledge and comic approach to lecturing.

Following the introductory lecture, members of this semester’s Greek and Roman comedy classes will be putting on modern adaptations of classic comedies. The two classes have been working very hard for the past few weeks on these works. They have designed costumes, written scripts, made sets and arranged music, attempting to give ancient plays a modern context while still retaining the original wit and charm.

First, members of Professor Christopher Baron’s Greek Comedy class are putting on an adaptation of Aristophanes’s “Clouds.” Student writers junior George Warner and seniors Mary Clare Murphy and Tom Pappas, with organizer senior Doug Schuda, have adapted the fifth century play from Athens.

“Clouds” is the story of country bumpkin Strepsiades, who falls deeply into debt because of the frivolous actions of his son and must then seek the aid of Socrates. The students have put the play into a modern setting, and hilarity and entertainment should follow Strepsiades on every step of his journey.

During the interlude between the two plays, students will showcase other talents. Acts include jugglers and other small performances. Nero himself would have a hard time rivaling such exhibitions of talent.

Members of Professor Catherine Schlegel’s Roman Comedy class will then put on the final play of the night, an adaptation of Plautus’s “Menaechmi.” Student director junior Austin Holler, with the help of various student writers, has adapted this late third century/early second century B.C. play to take place at Notre Dame.

“Menaechmi” is the story of twin brothers and mistaken identities. Plautus is famous for his slapstick comedy and fast-moving wit which, combined with the inspired and comical minds of the Classics Department, should make the play one to remember.

Comprehension of Latin or Greek is not a requirement for attendance at this event, as all plays will be in English. So come out tonight and support your fellow students in their thespian endeavors. Who knows, perhaps Thalia and some of her sisters will be in attendance, ready to inspire you in some way. As the famous orator Marcus Tullius Cicero said, most aptly describing the event, “Hilarious est.” (“It is hilarious.”) Don’t miss out.

Contact Mary Claire O’Donnell at modonne@nd.edu