Hi, this is Madison Little and I’m your live blogger for this staging session!

This staging session is lead by Stephen Wittek and judged by Dan Hasse, Jay McClure, and Anne Morgan. The two plays that were staged and discussed were Bonduca and The Tragedy of Nero. Each of these plays have never been performed onstage before and the presenters argue how these productions could contribute to our modern American culture.

The first presentation was given by Tina Romanelli on John Fletcher’s Bonduca. Bonduca features a strong female warrior as a lead who challenges both Elizabethan and modern stereotypes on strong women. She lacks compassion or sympathy, and has a vicious and extravagant love of violence, but she is consistently brave and strong. Romanelli believes that staging this play will help de-naturalize gender stereotypes perpetuated by our society.

Roman sources for the play features Bonduca and her daughters being beaten and raped by her enemies, but Fletcher leaves this detail out. Fletcher’s play is aware of the sexual violence, but works to make all characters appear brave and noble. In Romanelli’s staging of the play, Bonduca is portrayed as wry, sarcastic, and strong. She does not take pleasure in the sexual violence targeted at her, but she is not afraid of the threats presented to her either. The final scene shows Bonduca and her daughters committing suicide rather than submitting to the Romans. This scene can either be received with sympathy as we watch three women meet an honorable end, but there is also a sense of horror as Bonduca forces her daughters to drink the poison and die with her.

Bonduca is atypical in that it presents three warrior women without religious or political motivation. The leading woman is brave and powerful, and she draws these traits from nowhere but herself. Staging this play will bring a forgotten female warrior to light and add to the small, but growing list of powerful female leads.

Speaking on the behalf of Melinda Marks, Sarah Enloe presented about The Tragedy of Nero. Marks argues that the best way to portray this play is with an unwieldy sense of joy about the atrocities that are committed in this play. Other tragedies are meant to bring humanity to its characters and situations, but Nero entirely lacks humanity and the play never tries to argue any for him or excuse his actions in any sense. He is simply an evil man, but he is not Iago-like in his evil. His self-love and self-importance makes him present like an early modern clown, but the audience is always reminded of the atrocities that he commits.

At the end of the play, Nero loses his mind and compares himself to the legends of literature. In an attempt to make this myth a reality, he sets Rome on fire and watches it burn from a distance. The audience must watch the suffering of the Romans juxtaposed with Nero’s joyous commentating. When Nero ultimately learns that he has been condemned to a slow and humiliating death for his actions, he appeals for his life, then dies a dramatic and ridiculous death by his own hand. 

Marks calls this play cynical without being dire, funny without being light-hearted, and sobering without being moralizing. This play beautifully treads the gray line that separates the tragic from the absurd.

Judges’ Verdict: Bonduca, by unanimous vote.