Comedy's history

SoHi actors play around with varied theater styles

Posted: Thursday, April 07, 2005


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  Earlier this week, members of the Soldotna High School drama department rehearse their introduction to the one-act plays they will perform today, Friday and Saturday at the SoHi auditorium. Photo by Jenny Neyman

Earlier this week, members of the Soldotna High School drama department rehearse their introduction to the one-act plays they will perform today, Friday and Saturday at the SoHi auditorium.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

The Soldotna High School drama department is undertaking an impressive task this weekend — presenting the history of humanity. The abridged version, at least.

That's the stated goal of the actors at the beginning of the show, at any rate. They gather onstage in a tableau of comedia del arte characters and bicker their way through deciding what they're going to perform. They've got to do something, they reason, since an audience is there. Wanting to give the crowd their money's worth, they decide on presenting the highlights of humanity.

Though they gloss over the vast majority of thousands of of years of human existence, (they don't want to keep the crowd too long, they say), they do hit on some high points —life, death, societal evolution and, of course, love — in the two one-acts and skits that follow the introduction, which were written by director Mike Druce and the cast.

The first one-act is "The Cave," written by Tim Kelly. The production continues in the comedia del arte style — a form of improvisational theater developed in the 16th century where troupes of actors amused audiences with clown-like antics of juggling or acrobatics and performed comedies where established characters improvised their way through roughed-out story lines.


SoHi's Kurt Romberg practices a scene where he flirts with his forbidden love, played by Sarah Shoemaker, in "The Romancers."

Photo by Jenny Neyman

Druce said he picked "The Cave" because it fit the cast he drew from an open audition and gave the students a chance to perform something in the comedia del arte form, which they dabbled in before on a larger scale.

"(That show) was too ambitious, but we wanted to do something like it," Druce said. "This is an opportunity to do something different."

Along with giving the actors a chance to experiment with a form of comedy, it also provided a chance to experiment with costuming, since the characters developed their own mismatched, clown-inspired outfits.

"I wanted it to be very bold with stripes and plaids and very colorful," Druce said.

To complete the look, Druce ordered a variety of masks for the cast and had them decorate their own.

"Masks give an interesting feel to a production," he said.

In the play, characters wander onstage and try to figure out what they're all doing there and what they're supposed to perform.

"You never know whether it's a musical comedy or a revolution," one says.

They start out with a brief rendition of their "great success," "The Black Death." But after much wailing, gnashing of teeth and pantomimed deaths at the scythe of the grim reaper, they decide to take another tack. They vote to act out what life would be like for early humans living in a cave.

The cave is dark, cold and devoid of food, but it's a familiar — and therefore comfortable — existence for the cave dwellers.


Michael Barber, above, and Kurt Romberg duel in a scene from "The Romancers."

Photo by Jenny Neyman

However, when the hunters fail to return with any food, the warrior comes back with news of nearby people who have the frightening capacity to laugh and a winged creature attacks the cave, the tribe must decide whether to stay in their cave or venture out in search of a better life.

From "The Cave," human history jumps forward thousands of years to "The Roman-cers."

In this one-act comedy, written by Edmond Rostand, two love-struck neighbors bemoan their fate of being unable to marry because of a long-standing feud between their mothers.

They meet at the rock wall dividing their mothers' properties to read Shakespeare and dream of far-fetched ways to be together.

Just when all hope seems lost after one mother insists her child marry, the lovebirds discover some things are more important to parents than grudges.

At the same time, the mothers discover that staging a "high-class" abduction complete with moonlight, torches, masked marauders and a sedan chair costs a lot more than they originally thought.

The audience, meanwhile, has a chance to see versatile acting and widely different comedy styles in one performance.

According to the cast, going from comedia del arte to more straight-laced comedy poses challenges but also has its rewards.

"You're doing one thing in one play then drop it all and do something completely different in 10 minutes," said Bets Pindras. "It's very difficult but very horizon-building."

The range of parts available in doing a variety of plays in one show is a good opportunity for the uninitiated to get their feet wet in acting.

"It's great for people who have never done anything like this before," said Kurt Rom-berg. "They get to do something more well-rounded."

According to Druce, the drama department has a range of students from freshmen to seniors this year. There's even some first-time actors among the upperclassmen.

"I think that it's always great when you have seniors who will kind of step out and do something a little different," he said.

Adding to the challenges of this show is the fact that regular rehearsals were interrupted by a music trip Druce and some of the cast went on. But he applauded them for still practicing in the meantime and getting right back to work.

"The Cave" and "The Ro-mancers" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday at the SoHi auditorium.

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