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Wisdom Through Madness

Wisdom through Madness

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Douglas Adams is one of the most recognizable authors of our time. Next to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and perhaps John Grisham or Stephen King, Adams brand is easily one of most memorable and enjoyable series to ever be produced.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a radio play that was adapted into a book that became trilogy in five parts that then became a television show which was adapted into a movie that did not quite live up to the hype that then returned to television. Somehow or another this story has ended up here at Hedgerow Theatre, and that is exactly what this fascinating ride is: a story.

No matter the form, no matter the method, the arc stays the same. Adams wrote in a witty, sardonic tone that equalled that of Charles Dickens. Each character seems to posses a quick whip or a beautiful simplicity, but either way it is Adams way with words that draw us in.

It is as if the Trickster god has stepped behind the keyboard, and is offering up sage wisdom through irony and puns.

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened,” writes Adams.  

If Adams is a bit of Loki or Anansi, his desire is to transgress. He breaks social taboos by placing them in far off vessels and allowing us to see the ridiculousness of a belief, crosses between worlds and time as a passenger unnoticed, and presents multiple contradictory truths.

It is as if Harlequinno or Truffaldino has taken hold of the pen and become the scribe. The Fool stands the test of time, whether he is in commedia or cartoon, because he places for us, a context of madness.

“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans…” writes Adams.

If we look at another dramatic example from Shakespeare’s King Lear, Lear’s Fool functions as the same role. Loyal and honest, he comments upon the king’s actions as well as functions as the king’s conscience. The Fool is able to point at the faults of the king, and through irony, sarcasm, and humor he eases the truth to protect and educate his friend.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be,” writes Adams.

In this example, we are Lear: mad, betrayed, heart-broken, confused, and lost. It is the Fool who writes to us and allows us the opportunity to see truth through comedy, to swallow the sugar-pill of knowledge with a smile. Adams zanny Universe offers us a chance to laugh at our own stupidity, at our own futility, and our own fragility.

Whether it is Loki or Harley, Adams or Mel Brooks, the clown speaks the truth that no one else can say. He plays the trick that forces us to see reality. He bends the laws in order to show us what things could be.
As we prepare to open The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Part 2, we prepare to imagine how the Universe might be, what aliens might be like, and how we would act if faced with utterly ridiculous circumstances.

The Comedy of Maskers

WideEyedStudiosHedgerowTwoMastersEarlyHigh-12Timeless jokes come to life on the Hedgerow Theatre stage when The Servant of Two Masters gets to work from May 26 to June 26 in director Aaron Cromie’s world premiere adaptation of the Carlo Goldoni classic farce.

Producing Artistic Director Jared Reed plays Truffaldino, joined by Hedgerow Company members Zoran Kovcic as Pantalone; Allison Bloechl as Beatrice; Mark Swift as Silvio; Susan Wefel as the innkeeper, Brighella; Brock D. Vickers as Florindo; Josh Portera as Dr. Lombardi, Silvio’s father, and also the second waiter and porter; and Shaun Yates as the first waiter and porter. The cast is completed with guest artist Sarah Knittel as the maid Smeraldina; and guest artist Madalyn St. John as Clarice, Pantalone’s daughter and Silvio’s betrothed.

“This form still works today because it’s how we still work today. Actors like Robin Williams are given a script and make it their own, they riff, they bring their own take to the character and give the world something new about it. We recognize these characters as a culture. We say, ‘That guy’s funny’,and, ‘That guy gets mad,’ so let’s put them in a room and see what comes out. The form lives on because it is so versatile and relevant,” said Reed.

Goldoni first wrote The Servant of Two Masters in 1746. His original version was based on improvisation, but he revised it to make the characters more complex and had it printed in 1753. It retains, however, many of the traditional characteristics of its origin, such as physical comedy and general ongoing silliness, enhanced by clever wordplay. “It’s cartoons….It’s Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. We recognize folly and we laugh at it,” said Reed.  

The play opens at the home of Venetian merchant Pantalone with the celebration of his daughter Clarice’s engagement to her beloved Silvio. The festivities are interrupted by the arrival of Beatrice, a lady of Turin disguised as her twin brother Federigo–who was originally betrothed to Clarice before losing his life in a duel with Beatrice’s lover, Florindo–in the hopes of deceiving them long enough to collect the dowry owed to her brother. In the meantime, Florindo arrives in Venice after fleeing Turin to escape punishment for Federigo’s death. The title character is Truffaldino, a servant with an insatiable appetite who wants to double his intake of food, so he secretly takes jobs with both Beatrice and Florindo. He shuttles back and forth between assignments, receiving letters, messages, and money for “his master”, although he’s never sure which one they’re for. The escalating misunderstandings lead to multiple comical complications before all is resolved.

“Aaron and I were talking about what we could do with the talents of the company, and what we could create. It came up, with the success of One Man, Two Guvnors [Richard Bean’s acclaimed update of the play], ‘why not do the original Goldoni?’” said Reed.

The Commedia dell’arte (literally, “comedy of the profession”) was concerned mostly with tangled love intrigues and clever tricks to get money or outwit some simpleton. There were plotting maids, bragging captains, aged fathers and wily widows, all archetypes we recognize in an instant.

“People find truth done in a new and fresh way, funny… Comedy is truth you didn’t expect to have happen. I’ve always thought about it as ‘Comedy is tragedy viewed through the prism of time,” said Reed.

They’re directed by Cromie, who helmed the critically acclaimed Or, this past winter and has adapted the original Goldoni. The self-described multidisciplinary theatre artist is perfectly suited for the job, having studied at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in California, and been involved in three previous productions of this play.

“Funny is funny no matter the era. So we recognize the connections of comedy, improv, and mask work and the stories come from a place of love. I’ve dedicated a part of my creative life to it, and the stories you can tell are endless,”  said Cromie.

The improvised Comedy of Masks, with a history that goes back to the days of ancient Rome, was frequently coarse and obscene. In the early eighteenth century there was an established English theatre and French theatre, but no real Italian theatre, as Goldoni himself observed. Goldoni made it his mission to give an artistic form to the spoken comedy.

“I’ve always had a love of this style. It’s the birth of cartoons: it’s fast-paced, it’s silly, it’s joyful and it’s meant to entertain people, and to celebrate our folly as human beings,” said Cromie.

The four traditional masks which appear in his plays are Pantalone, Il Dottore, Brighella and Arlecchino. Pantalone is the old Venetian merchant, wearing the dress of the sixteenth century. Traditionally he was senile and lascivious; Goldoni made him a model of respectability, while never losing sight of his comic character. Il Dottore represents the old man of the educated classes; he is a Doctor of Law of the University of Bologna, pompous and pedantic, and prone to bursts of irrelevant Latin. Brighella and Arlecchino come from Bergamo and represent the two types of servant, knave and fool. Truffaldino is also from Bergamo and is a variation of the typical stock character Arlecchino.

The Commedia style of improvisation required actors able to make a serious study of their parts; these disciplined comedians changed forever the standards of acting. The best of them stamped their characters with individuality, freshness and brilliance, and gave value to pieces which often were otherwise worthless. The Commedia dell’arte introduced the professional actor into Europe.

“Comedy is scientific. You have to have the timing and control over the audience to set up the beat, to set up the laugh. A painter has the luxury of painting what he or she feels, but with comedy we have to keep the audience in mind. We do the things that make us laugh, but we have to keep the pattern in mind: the content: the joke. We have to surprise them. We have to bring them truth at an extremity under pressure,” said Cromie.

Goldoni created a new form of comedy by taking the best elements of the improvised style of commedia dell’arte and adding witty dialogue in longer, more complete stories. Commedia dell’arte was primarily short scenarios with stock characters, featuring love triangles, mistaken identities, and disguises. It was the source of slapstick, with lots of physical comedy and an actual “slapstick” used to create a slapping sound.

As a boy, a toy theatre was the Goldoni’s favourite plaything, and plays his favourite reading. He was sent to school at Rimini and escaped back to Venice with a theatrical company; he later studied law at Pavia, but was expelled from his college because of a satire he wrote. He took his degree in law at Padua in 1731 and practised as a lawyer for some time at Venice. But the theatre always interested him more than the law, and from 1734 onwards he wrote regularly for the stage.

The importance of these typical stage characters, which enjoyed at least four centuries of popularity on the European boards, lies in the influence they had on the famous dramatists that followed. Already one can catch a breath of the Shakespearean comedies in the names of the heroes; and one can see that Molière, both as actor and author, learned much from this branch of Italian art. Its influence passed through Holberg into Denmark, where it became a powerful factor in shaping the romantic drama of a later age.

“It’s infectious and it’s fun. Maybe some kid will see this and want to make his own play, with his own jokes. So for the time being we’re telling the story and hopefully somebody will laugh and somebody will be inspired by what we do,” said Cromie.

Clues: Facts of the Case

Ned Pryce from Dracula

Allow us to shed some light on the upcoming mystery: strychnine. If you are an avid mystery lover, and if you are reading this you are, then you will love a clue or two to get a leg up on the competition. Well, enjoy these facts on an essential point in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. 


The 19th century witnessed the birth of the Industrial Revolution which is responsible for scientific advances, as well as technological. This progress  caused a boom in medical science which led to numerous remedies for ailments. Some of these were quite dangerous including morphine, cocaine, and opium.  The Victorians’ reliance on medicines and tonics carried over into the 20th century.

Emily Ingelthorp’s tonic contains the alkaloid, strychnine. By the first half of the 20th century, people were ingesting strychnine as a tonic or in pill form for gastric health. The plant source of alkaloid strychnine was discovered in 1818. This discovery was made by French chemists Joseph-Bienaime Caventou (1795-1877) and Pierre-Joseph Pelletier. Strychnine comes from the seeds of the nux vomica tree that grows in India. Although strychnine is a poison, it has been used in the past as a medicine. Strychnine was once prescribed as a remedy for heart and respiratory complaints and as a stimulant (or body “upper”). It is no longer used today because the size of an effective dose would be toxic. (Encyclopedia)

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Theatergoers are advised to stay calm and bring a towel as they are  taken on a tour of the universe at Hedgerow Theatre’s production of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from January 8 to 17.

Hedgerow will be using the British playwright’s original radio play, which first aired on the BBC in 1978, and launched a popular science-fiction comedy series of books that were later adapted into a TV series, a computer game and a movie. The story begins shortly before Earth is set to be demolished to make room for a galactic highway. Hapless Englishman Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, an alien from a small planet near Betelgeuse who’s a researcher for the title publication. They set off together on a journey through space, where they encounter a number of unusual characters.

It will be done as a multimedia spoken-word performance directed by Artistic Director Jared Reed. Hedgerow Fellows Josh Portera, Allison Bloechl and Mark Swift will read from the script, each playing several roles, with illustrations projected on the walls behind them and special sound effects to enhance the storytelling. The storyboard art was created by Phoebe Titus and animated by her husband, technical director David Titus. The Lansdowne-based couple own OrganicInOrganic Visuals, a production company.

“The great thing about this project,” Phoebe Titus explained, “is that there are such wonderful characters and descriptions of visual gags. I read the script several times, talked with David and we just had fun together thinking about the characters and visuals.” Adams’ words offered plenty of inspiration for her. “Douglas Adams’ world holds a mirror to the humorously mundane, contradictory and marginally annoying aspects of our world,” she added. “When it comes to creating visuals to go along with his vision, there’s also an aspect of the specific time and place they’re coming from.  I worked to pull them all together in a way that is fun, relatable and relevant.”

There are eight performances scheduled, on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.

All tickets for this special engagement are $20. To reserve seats or for more information, call 610-565-4211 or visit www.HedgerowTheatre.org. Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media.)