By Grace Prosniewski, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 2, 2013
The plague killed over 50 million people, wiping out nearly a third of Europe’s population. It also overthrew the existing social order and caused widespread persecution of minorities. It’s not exactly a topic thought of as great fodder for comedy.
Arthur Miller Theatre
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But that’s exactly the backdrop for English author Peter Barnes’s dark comedy, “Red Noses.”
The play follows the exploits of Father Flote, a Catholic priest facing the plague in 14th-century France. Flote is hoping for a sign from God, something that will enable him to give consolation to his beleaguered parishioners. Father Flote finds his vocation when he unintentionally causes laughter and sees how powerful it can be.
Flote brings together a motley company of performers, or “Red Noses,” and tours the disease-ridden country, spreading happiness and hope among the suffering people. On its travels, the troupe encounters all manner of wanderers, from flagellants to corpse robbers. And once the plague begins to decline, the Red Noses find themselves at odds with the church hierarchy’s attempt to restore their influence.
The upcoming performance of “Red Noses” is a School of Music, Theatre & Dance production and the first of five mainstage shows that make up the University’s season.
Emily Shimskey, a junior acting major at MT&D plays the role of Frapper, a stuttering stand-up comedian in Father Flote’s ragtag group of performers.
“Working in an ensemble cast has been really fun,” Shimskey said. “Each character supports all the rest in one way or another. No one person carries the weight of the entire show.”
“Red Noses” celebrates laughter’s ability to change lives, and not just divert attention away from daily problems. Combining elements of slapstick, surprise and hectic comedy, the play provides many opportunities for the actors to hone their comedic skills.
“Since the show itself is heightened,” Shimskey said, “each actor had to work on fitting in the style of the show, but having all stylistic choices grounded in truth to be believable in the world of the play.”
The play also afforded the actors a chance to cultivate a different kind of skill as well: juggling.
“We all learned how to juggle,” Shimskey said. “Not everyone does in the show, but any Red Nose can juggle if you ask them to!”
Circus tricks aside, “Red Noses” aims to do more than just entertain the audience.
“I guess, all in all, I just want them to feel something. I want to make them think, be moved in some sort of way,” Shimskey said. “The play is a beautifully crafted piece of art. I hope it affects each audience member in some way.”