The Mandrake, and other things.

Rehearsal for The Mandrake starts next week. I’m excited–excited to be finished. These kinds of shows are always fun, but they take a toll–given I produce, adapt, direct, and act. The pixely image above is a snippet of media for the reading. Forgive the quality. (Adapting it to JPEG fucked it!) The cast is set, the script is cut, media has been painstakingly crafted and distributed, rehearsal space has been rented, and the performance space has been reserved and paid–as far as I know. Now for the easy part: production. Should be a walk in the park, right? Right?

Never.

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Never ever.

Machiavelli’s work (specifically his comedies) has fascinated me for years. In literature and politics, a ‘Machiavellian’ is someone who is cunning, two-faced, ill-natured, and immoral. Shakespeareans use the word to describe Richard III, Iago, and Claudius; television critics use the term to describe virtually every character in HBO’s Game of Thrones; and twit-mongers tack the word their favorite politicians: this morning,  I read a #WhichHillary tweet that called Clinton “a sociopath, [and] a fucking Machiavellian.” The word has seeped into our social consciousness, and we rarely (if ever) hesitate to consider it.

In truth, Machiavelli himself wasn’t a Machiavellian. He never once uttered the infamous phrase “the ends must justify the means;” and his most celebrated work, The Prince, is less a manifesto and more a job application. His discourses are as much concerned with history, heritage, and creating a unified Italy as they are with power and acquisition. Machiavelli was a translator, a linguist, and a historian: his comedies are extensions of these passions. The Mandrake, his only original work, playfully tinkers with Florentine dialect to create an Italian play as complex and meaningful as any comedy by Plautus or Terence. Though his plays haven’t aged well–women’s roles are marginal, to say the least–they offer a fascinating glimpse of the real Machiavelli: the philosopher, not the villain.

And the play has had very little production history–or history at all, for that matter. Though it received some attention in the latter half of the 20th century, thanks to a translation by Wallace Shawn (Inconceivable!) and a Riverside Shakespeare Company production starring Tom Hanks, the play has gone relatively unnoticed in most major theatre circles. It has slipped under the radar of most Renaissance scholars as well: in preparing for this upcoming production, several of my colleagues seemed baffled that Machiavelli wrote anything other than political discourses (in truth, he never really did).

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The Mandrake, starring Tom Hanks. Hanks is the one in the funny hat. In the middle.

Production

That said, producing the play has come with some unique challenges. Hamlet was never short of actors: by the time I was ready to cast, my talent pool had grown to an astounding 43 actors. Dr. Faustus was also easy to cast. I had been in talks with actors months ahead of schedule, so casting was less a search and more a cut/paste job. This semester, my pool has shrunk to a puddle–the oily kind that usually lies outside Alabama Wal-Marts. Only five actors initially offered to fill roles. And, given my untimely and awkward production schedule (SETC, spring break, midterms, etc.) I found myself scavenging list serves to round out a seven-man cast.

But I regret nothing. As I said a few paragraphs up, these productions are a ton of fun, despite the headache, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

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Jake

Marketing Strategist at The University of Alabama.

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