By Amanda Reed
PC Staff Writer
When it first debuted in 1896, theatre-goers were so offended at “Ubu Roi” that they took to the streets and rioted, prompting the production to close the same day it opened.
According to director Shannon Knapp, that won’t happen this time around.
“The opening line of the play in 1800s was just ‘shit,’ and they were so offended, and I don’t think there’s an equivalent today,” she said. “What word could you yell at the top of a play to make them leave? I don’t know.
“Ubu Roi” originally written by Alfred Jarry in 1896 and in adapted by Connor Shioshita Pickett and Jordan Matthew Walsh in 2013 and 2018, is a satire of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” ‘Macbeth,” “King Lear,” and “The Winter’s Tale,” and tells the story of King Ubu, a bumbling, childish and incompetent king who schemes his way into running the country.
Brett Sullivan Santry, who plays the titular character, uses his formal Shakespeare training to bring the satirical parallels to the Bard to life.
“I see Ubu as a meld of a Shakespearean clown, which is exactly what we don’t want of our tragedians,” he said.
“Ubu Roi” is the second production of Throughline’s 2018 season, titled “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which focuses on the evolution of comedy throughout history. The season began with Steve Martin’s 1993 play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” and ends with “The Inspector General” by Nikolai Gogol, written in 1836.
“We chose this show in particular because comedy is also used very often as a weapon. This is, I feel, one of the most perfect uses of comedy as a weapon,” Sean “Shaggy” Sears, artistic director of Throughline Theatre Company, said.
This production focuses on the metaphysics of metaphysics, as the play constantly makes fun of itself. Costumes feature feather boas and medieval headdresses and ridiculous sound effects, like a “plop” sound when a character drops a phone in a pot of soup.
“They are funny in and of themselves because they don’t fit, at the same time, they fit,” costume designer Ellen Rosen.
According to assistant director Brittany Tague, the show is also incredibly interpretive, letting the audience make their own parallels to the show.
“It doesn’t advocate for anyone or anything, so that allows the audience to pull from current events, past events, social and economical hardships in our country and in other countries and in mythological countries in television,” she said.
The play is filled with insults, which give the show its signature flair. And, for those who want to improve their insult abilities, the theatre will hold an insult workshop on June 30 at 6:45 p.m., a nod to the play’s content.
“A big part of Jarry’s original work is that it was so lowbrow and had such insulting language that people got angry and rioted, so for this adaptation my collaborators and I spent a lot of time trying to come up with ridiculous/scatological strings of adverbs and nouns to make insane insults like ‘sausage-munching garbage hole,’ Knapp wrote in an email. “We want our audience to have the chance to do just that.”
Is the play still relevant today, more than 120 years later? “Yes,” Knapp said enthusiastically. “It’s about a stupid, childish leader with no impulse control. Yes, it’s still relevant.”
8 p.m., June 29, 2 P.M. and 8 p.m. June 30. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown). Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors. Insult workshop is $5. throughlinetheatre.org