Medieval Plays Conclude Masquers Season

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Fairmont State Masquers will present two medieval plays, under the direction of Artist-in-Residence Jeffrey Ingman, for the final theatre production of the season.

Illustrating the work of a male and a female playwright, the plays "Everyman" and "Dulcitius" combine ideas popular in morality and miracle plays. During the Middle Ages, plays centered around aspects of Christian faith and history; both of these works exemplify this tradition.

"Everyman/Dulcitius" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 21-23; at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 24; and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 28-30, at the Wallman Hall Theatre. For tickets, call the Box Office at (304) 367-4240.

"Everyman" is a morality play composed by a male playwright. It is the best-known and best example of the genre. In the story, "Everyman" portrays a carousing man informed by Death of his approaching demise. First, the character called Everyman is deserted by his false friends, his kin and his wealth. This void forces him to fall back on his Good Deeds, his Strength, his Beauty, his Intelligence and his Knowledge. (All of these are performed as separate characters.) These qualities help Everyman to write his Book of Accounts, which each person must compose and acknowledge at the end of his or her life. When he must go to his grave, however, Everyman is again deserted -- by all but his Good Deeds. The moral of the play is that we may take with us from this world only what we have given, nothing of what we have received.

"Dulcitius," the second play, belongs to the category of miracle play. Set during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Governor Dulcitius is made the keeper of three virgins --Agape, Chione and Irena -- who have refused to renounce their Christian faith and sacrifice to the Roman gods. Overwhelmed by their beauty and desiring their favors, Dulcitius has the women locked in the kitchen. During the night, the governor enters the room and believes he is embracing them. He is, however, embracing the soot-blackened pots and pans instead. When he emerges from the kitchen, not looking like himself, his soldiers run from him in fear. Dulcitius demands to see the Emperor. The palace guards, also failing to recognize him, deny him admission and beat him severely. It takes his wife to point out to Dulcitius what a fool he has been. In his consuming anger, the governor decrees that the three women must be stripped and publicly exposed.

When the soldiers attempt to carry out these orders, the robes refuse to come off the women's bodies. Diocletian steps in and orders Count Sisinnius to punish the three. Sympathetic to Irena, the youngest, he orders her to be put into prison, but he has Agape and Chione burned at the stake. However, the flames cannot burn either the clothing or the bodies of the two women, and the audience sees their two souls rise to heaven. Sisinnius orders Irena, who defies all attempts to make her renounce her faith, to be taken to a brothel.

In the next scene, the soldiers return to report to Sisinnius that two splendidly-dressed men with radiant countenances appeared and took Irena to the top of a mountain, per the Count's orders. Enraged, Sisinnius attempts to find the path to the mountain's summit, where Irena stands, taunting him and pronouncing his damnation. At the Count's order, a soldier shoots Irena with an arrow and she dies, reaching toward heaven.

Although the playwright of "Everyman" is not known, the name of the "Dulcitius" author and information about her life is known. Hrotswitha of Gandersheim is the earliest known poet from Germany and the first female dramatist to emerge in the Middle Ages. It is likely that Hrotswitha was of royal birth, born probably around 935 and dying around 1001 or 1002. She was a canoness of the Abbey of Gandersheim, where she was encouraged to write by Gerberga, her abbess, and Rikkarda, her novice mistress. She would have been surrounded by a monastic library filled with both religious and secular works, among them certainly plays by the Roman dramatist, Terence, whom Hrotswitha acknowledges. There are six existing plays by the German nun.

The version of "Dulcitius" employed in these performances was translated by Mark Damon. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, where he worked on ancient comedy. He became interested in medieval studies through the work of the Roman dramatist Terence. His research and creative activities have focused on reconstructing, reviving and re-imagining historical theatre from all quarters of the past. He is Associate Professor of History and Theatre at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, where he teaches classical languages, history and playwriting.

Jeffrey Ingman, who will be the guest director for "Everyman/Dulcitius" is the Fairmont State Artist-in-Residence for 2005.

Ingman brings to his residency a diverse range of theatrical experience. He has taught acting and directing at the University of the Pacific, the University of Montana and the Pasadena Playhouse.

Ingman has directed musicals, including "The Music Man," "Hair - A Rock Musical," "Crazy for You" and "Sondheim Review;" directed dramatic and classical plays that include "A Lion in Winter," "A Midsummer's Night Dream," "Fool for Love" and "MacBeth;" and directed comedies and new plays that also include "Henny Penny," "Moon over Buffalo," "Private Lives" and "Bobby Gould in Hell."

Through funding provided by the Fairmont State Foundation, Inc., the Artist-in-Residence Program of the FSU School of Fine Arts makes possible performances and works of art created or presented by professional artists and the mentoring of students. Ingman joins a distinguished and growing list of national and international figures who lend their talents for both the institution and to the wider community of Fairmont.