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Annual Latin play lives up to its reputation

St. Olaf is known for the dramatic productions put on by its theater department and Deep End/APO in Kelsey and Haugen theaters, but these aren’t the only plays on campus. In the latest iteration of a tradition spanning decades, Professor Anne Groton directed a cast of St. Olaf classics students in a production of Titus Maccius Plautus’ “Rudens” the Rope, this fall’s Latin play.

When you think of ancient Rome or Greece, you might think of boring oratory and staid speeches. The ancients, however, had quite an ear for comedy, as evidenced by the number of comedic plays that have survived to this day. Plautus was one of the most prolific writers of ancient comedies.

Groton, who specializes in ancient drama, led the cast of 13 including six first years on a tour of regional schools and colleges on Oct. 3-4, including Edina High School and Gustavus Adolphus College. The tour ended with performances in St. Olaf’s Fosnes Hall on Oct. 5-6.

At each performance, the show was transformed to make it relevant for the audience. At the St. Olaf performances, for example, one character asked, “Have you seen such a wicked man?” Another character responded, “Maybe at Carleton,” to riotous laughter.

“We always try to do things a little differently,” Groton said. “You don’t want the play ever to be predictable.”

“Rudens'” plot is typical of an ancient comedy. It involves an improbable reunion between parents and their long-lost daughter, a crafty slave and an evil slave-dealer who is defeated in the end. But the plot took a back seat to the antics and bad jokes of the cast, which had the audience groaning and laughing along.

This was not a play that took itself too seriously – the cast shared equally in the cheesy humor and puns, which had a maritime theme. Characters bemoaned that they were “floundering” or accused one another of being “shellfish.” During the musical numbers, inflatable sea creature pool toys danced above the painted sheets that served as a set. “Rudens” was truly an ensemble piece, with no singular star except for Groton, who delivered the prologue in character as Arcturus, who was literally a star.

Groton translated the main body of the play, but each member of the cast had a chance to inject their own personalities into the production. The play was performed mostly in English, with Latin words thrown in for the sake of puns and to teach attending classics students in the audience a little something.

Groton also wrote the play’s five songs, simple ditties which she accompanied on piano. The audience was invited to sing along for a chorus or verse of each song.

Some young children sat cross-legged on the floor as a result of the overflow crowd in Fosnes.

“You’re right in the play,” Groton said to the children. This was true for more than just those children, however. The whole audience was involved in the play.

“I don’t think we’re over the limit,” Groton said to the large crowd on Saturday, before the play began, “especially if you don’t mention it to the fire marshal.”

Traditional drama is all very well and good, but for a good laugh and cheesy puns, nothing beats the annual St. Olaf classics department’s Latin play. Check it out next fall or hunt down tapes from years past in the classics department, located in Tomson Hall. Valete!

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