On A Droll

Props designed by Linda Noland for Undermain’s production of THE DROLL by Meg Miroshnik

The world of Meg Miroshnik’s The Droll {Or, a Stage-Play about the END of Theatre} imagines a world largely inspired by the atmosphere of seventeenth century England. Several decades after the era of Queen Elizabeth’s theatre patronage in Great Britain and just before the Restoration, the Puritan Interregnum brought with it a distinct attitude about theatre. From 1642-1660, England saw a series of harsh laws and ordinances deeming theatre – both acting and audience-going wholly illegal. Theaters were torn down, anyone caught watching a performance was fined, and first-offense players were whipped.

 

Though theatre performances were illegal and the penalties severe, live performance endured during the Interregnum “by stealth…and under the pretence of Rope-dancing, or the like.” In this time, humorous scenes, known as humors or drolls were written or simply stolen from full-length works. Of all the known drolls, only a few are thought to be “originals, the rest being wholly taken from favourite plays.” Though the authorships of the drolls taken from popular plays would have been as known to the audiences of the drolls as they are to us today, Francis Kirkman, the publisher of a well-known collection of surviving droll scripts claims in his preface that the pieces were were “written I know not when, by several persons, I know not who.” Kirkman also gives credit for much of the collection to the great comedian and performer Robert Cox, though most scholars agree that this is largely untrue.

 

Even the validity of Kirkman’s right to publish his collection (or, rather, the collection that he claims to be his) is questionable at best. The year 1661, after the theaters reopened and “the stocks of play-books understandably low” presented a “heaven-sent opportunity for the less scrupulous publisher” to print popular plays. It seems that Kirkman was one such publisher with less scruples than most.This piracy is blatantly pinned on Kirkman by the original publishers of The Beggar’s Bush (one of the short plays included in the Francis Kirkman collection). Their title page prominently features a note asserting that “Kirkman, and his Hawkers… deceived the buyers withal, selling them at treble the value” no less. They further assure readers that the true rights to The Beggars Bush “were first purchased by us at no mean rate, and since printed by us.” Most scholars would agree that Francis Kirkman he “was neither the sole complier nor the first publisher of the collection of seventeenth-century playlettes.” Regardless of who the original publishers and authors of the drolls were, the well-known Kirkman collection is still a highly valuable resource to many, including but not limited to Meg Miroshnik who used the collection as for reference while writing. The Droll {Or, a Stage-Play about the END of Theatre}. The collection serves as a window into the performances that occurred during that time in England, allowing modern theatre artists, scholars and dilettantes to see what theatre was able to be performed in England. According to one account, “When the publique Theatres were shut up… all that we could divert ourselves with were these humours and pieces of Plays”. These short plays were performed under titles like Bottom the Weaver or The Thracian Wonder, A Cure for a Cuckold. Another, The Grave-Makers, a short piece featured two grave-diggers preparing a final resting place for a gentle lady recently drowned. Sound familiar? As the preface of the Francis Kirkman collection of droll states, “it is hardly necessary to observe” that this droll is hewn from none other than the Shakespearean tragedy of Hamlet.

 

Jenny Ledel, Justin Locklear, and Katy Tye in THE DROLL by Meg Miroshnik

 

 

In The Droll, young Nim Dullyn, stumbles upon an illegal, underground theatre troupe performing “the humours of the Gravemakers,” After discovering the magic of the stage, he seeks to join this roving band of the last remaining Players. These actors, who performed “Stage-Play(s) in full” for the Queen, herself before the END, now perform drolls in one “shit-filled country yard” after another, – pursued by the beastly government Roundheads, who deem theater an abomination in this time of Sicknesse and Troubles. In the words of the Player, Thomas Dread Rosey, the drolls take “a vulgar slice of this and that” then “suture them together to make popular pie,” not unlike the historical drolls that played in the interregnum.

 

The Droll {Or, a Stage-Play about the END of Theatre} will feature its own droll crafted by Blake Hackler, and actors Alex Organ, Jack Greenman and Justin Locklear. Halfway through Act I, Miroshnik’s stage directions simply read: “JAMES, WILLIAM and THOMAS perform The Droll. It’s silly and scatological.” Left to their own devices in the basement with rhyming couplets inappropriate jokes a-flyin’, director composed a humorous scene based on the playwright’s parameters. It has since been approved by Miroshnik and will be featured in the world premiere here at Undermain. (The Players hope you go fanatick for it.)

 

The Droll (droll included) opens on September 26 and runs until October 17, with previews on September 23-September 25.

 

~Abigail Birkett, Undermain Emerging Artist

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