Making theater that stretches across cultural and temporal divides has become a favorite pursuit of the Rogue Theatre. Now this daring gang of thespian types -- assisted by Patrick Baliani’s translation and adaptation of “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio – are taking us deep into the passions and fears of Italian villagers trying hard to ignore the death rattle of Black Plague that swirls about them in 1348.
It is an interesting journey with some messages that may not be appreciated until later. The speech patterns in Baliani’s translation lack the immediacy of today’s direct talk. In the mid-14th century, without the speed of electronic communications to hurry them along, people actually had time to construct elaborate sentences to express their feelings.
On subjects such as sex, always one of the Big Sins in the eyes of the church, the conversation could become ingeniously convoluted. So could the devious strategies devised by both women and men to satisfy their individual needs for sexual attention from the opposite gender.
Taking in the Rogue’s medieval portrait of ever-shifting power plays throughout “The Decameron,” as directed by Joseph McGrath, one is frequently thinking “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
No wonder so many of the jokes in Shakespeare’s plays are still funny. The influence of religion may rise and fall. Leading scientific theories may be disproved by newer scientific theories. Technology may control some aspects of our lives.
But really, human nature stays as resistant to change as the lifestyles of migrating geese and giant sea turtles. In the time scale of evolution, a deep sense of humor will be more important to survival than having the latest digital do-dad at hand.
Is anybody writing stories today that will still be relevant in the year 2661? By then, humans will either be scrambling to survive in caves or else transporting themselves telepathically to the colder corners of the universe. Yet, “The Decameron” was written in 1351 and we easily recognize all the relationships today.
Baliani and McGrath have mined “The Decameron” for timeless gems of insight. The play is structured so the 10 stories chosen from Boccaccio’s 100-story work of fiction flow one into the other, just like real life.
There is nothing so tidy as a clear triumph of good over evil. Every resolution creates repercussions that will shape the next conflict. Thus, this stage adaptation with its cast of 10 becomes a true ensemble effort. Just like us, they are all part hero and part villain.
Baliani sets up his play on a bare stage with all 10 characters (seven women, three men) fleeing to an abandoned villa outside Florence, for the Black Plague continues raging inside the city’s walls.To stay optimistic, they tell each other stories full of the life that disease could snatch away at any time.
As in other Rogue productions, fancifully carved masks are often used to help define various personalities. Large noses are often a prominent feature.
According to program notes, the masks come from collections owned by the Theatre Arts department at the University of California in Santa Cruz as well as by Patty Gallagher, one of the company’s artistic associates.
Adding immeasurably to the production is the music of Harlan Hokin, Paul Amiel and Robert Villa. Hokin as music director has chosen pieces from the 14th century and composed others to fit the times. Inconspicuously seated at the edge of the stage, the trio’s music accompanies the action and adds shape to the characters.
Performances of Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” as translated and adapted for the stage by Patrick Baliani continue to May 15 in the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets are $25, except May 5 and 12, which are $25 or pay-what-you-will. Half-price student rush is 15 minutes before each performance, with valid ID. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.TheRogueTheatre.org