A low budget, no fuss production, the Latin play is nevertheless always well attended. The sets are nothing more than painted sheets. The actors use a miscellany of random props and simple costumes. Department Chair and Professor of Classics Ann Groton composes the melodies and lyrics and accompanies on piano. Grotons next-door neighbor designed the last three program covers.
"We don't actually put [the play] together until the night before we go on tour," said Alaina Burkard '08, a classics major who sang in the chorus. "We rehearse individually and run it through once."
In spite of this casual approach, the play was remarkably well done. Though long, "Menaechmi" was quickly paced and jam-packed with jokes. The script was peppered with self-conscious references to the future and to St. Olaf, deliberately awkward translation, a never-ending stream of groan-worthy puns and even a shout-out to Gwen Stefani. The play was also deliciously caustic with regards to romance: "You make me flower with your, um, benefits," the gold-digging Erotium, played by Elizabeth Beerman '07, sweetly tells one of the brothers Menaechmi.
The production had a unique stamp and a comedic coherency, which is all the more surprising given the fact that the script is created collaboratively by the cast. Every year each cast member individually translates his or her part from Latin. The script is an aggregate of all the individual translations incorporated in a collective process that Groton describes as "free-wheeling." Groton said, "It's a strange method, but we try to find a way to do it that would stay true to the spirit. I want it to be the students' play, I want it to be authentic for us."
The cast did a brief tour of local middle schools and high schools and the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota before performing at St. Olaf. The classics department has sponsored the biennial Latin play since 1982, when Groton joined the faculty. Groton has supervised 15 productions since her first year here, but she likes to give the student volunteers their due.
"[The play] just evolves, I don't have much control over it, I really just set things in motion," Groton said. "It's kind of like the Big Bang, it just expands on its own."