For its latest production, Theatre Pro Rata moves right into the Restoration -- and a nest of vipers for modern audiences.
Lovers and Executioners, written by Antoine Jacob de Montfleury in 1669, is a work of its time, with plenty of chauvinism, misogyny, and homophobia along the way. "One of the characters says, 'It is a game.' The play is a farce. When they are playing this game, we are learning what not to do by these buffoonish characters behaving this way," says director Carin Bratlie.
"It's not about condoning the behavior. It's a way of looking at how afraid these 'backwoods' characters are. The overt issue is the homophobia, but there is a secondary layer of misogyny in how these people live their lives. The basic crux of the plot is that, in the main couple, the man believes his wife has been unfaithful," she continues.
That belief causes Bernard to abandon his wife on a deserted island. Three years later, Julie escapes, disguises herself as a man, and sets off for her revenge -- comedic or otherwise.
Pro Rata is using a new adaptation of the script by John Strand. "What's cool about the script is that it has a very fresh and modern feel to the language, but it is still in rhyming couplets. It's roots are in the restoration era, but it is very accessible," Bratlie says. "It has a strong female lead, a bunch of sword fighting, and salacious acting. It's a farce that is very frothy and silly, and kind of bawdy."
One challenge of the script? Restoration writing is not Shakespeare. "Most of the actors have a strong background in Shakespeare and are familiar with the heightened language. If you are familiar with Shakespeare, you can almost 'fake' it. That's not the case with this play. You can't use that instinct in the same way," Bratlie says.
The tone and subject matter made it essential to set the play in the time when it was written, which gave the company access to a couple of always-fun bits of stagecraft: fancy costumes (and wigs) and sword fighting. "This show demands that. We wanted to do something that was exciting and special for our audience," Bratlie says.
Along with all of that, is the desire to have fun, even if comedy is hard. "Comedy is difficult in general, and farce even more so. The business has to be larger than life, but also real and honest. We have to find where the perfect balance is in this huge, ridiculous, crazy farcical comedy. It's been a good challenge."
IF YOU GO
Lovers and Executioners
2400 University Ave. W., St. Paul
Saturday through October 14
For information, call 612.234.7135 or online