The Makings of A Farce

By Brandt Roberts

When I am wandering the countryside like a rural maniac, the question I am most often asked is, “Where’s the nearest Wawa?” The second-most-often asked question is, “What’s a farce?” The answer is Hamburg, PA. The second question will require an in-depth exploration.

First and foremost, a farce is a comedy. A comedy is not a tragedy. The word tragedy comes from the Greek word tragoidia, meaning “goat song.” If you have ever heard screaming goats, then you now have a comprehensive knowledge of tragedy. Tragedy deals with the fall of a man from a high status. Comedy deals with men of a low status falling. Tragedy is focused on philosophical explorations while Comedy is focused on carnal explorations.

Brandt is well known to Commonweal audiences for his physically demanding and hilarious performances (Charlie’s Aunt, 2015)

Naturally there is a spectrum to comedy. On the high end is comedy of manners, which satirizes high society and concentrates on wit. Farce is found on the low end and concentrates on the common man and his lack of wit.

The word farce is probably based on the French word farcir—to stuff. When dramatic presentations were more of an event farce was used to fill the time between the screaming goats. On a basic level, the word farcir also suggests the genre is stuffed chockfull of physical bits, gags and other tomfoolery like a Thanksgiving turkey at a boardinghouse for clowns.

The humor stems from an everyman wanting to have his cake and eat it too. As we follow the exploits of the fellow striving to achieve the ludicrously impossible, the situation becomes increasingly more absurd. Thus entertainment is born. After all, the main purpose of any comedy is to entertain. I have had a lifelong love affair with farce and clowning. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Throughout life I have found that laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Lizzy Andretta (Gabriella), Rachel Kuhnle (Gloria), Elizabeth Dunn (Gretchen) and Josiah Laubenstein (Bernard) in Boeing Boeing, May through August.
Boeing Boeing begins performances on May 10th!

The fact that farce is on the low end of the comedy spectrum does not mean that it is “less,” but that it is more accessible to an audience. A fall does not have an age restriction or a language barrier: it is universal. This is why clowns are sent into refugee camps and hospitals. They can impart their medicine freely without the need of a prescription. To me, there is no greater honor than to share a healing laugh with an audience.

If you are in need of medicinal laughter, then come and visit the Commonweal theatre and become immersed in the zany world of Boeing Boeing. You’ll be glad you did. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find a closer Wawa…    

Don’t miss Brandt’s work this season, as he appears in both Holmes and Watson, and the hilarious Boeing Boeing. For Tickets —-> Performance Calendar

Welcoming Laughter

Newest Resident Ensemble member, Josiah Laubenstein, makes his Commonweal debut in the hilarious farce Boeing Boeing. We asked him why he enjoys the play so much, and why we as an audience always love to laugh.

When my wife and I lived in South Carolina there was an outdoor farmer’s market throughout the whole year. For a few weeks during the winter the city set up a small, iceskating rink. Up here an iceskating rink would be a place to go and watch some fairly graceful (or at least competent) people do some fairly graceful (or at least competent) things. In South Carolina, among people who had never seen ice outside of a Slushee cup, it was the perfect place for comedy. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. Tears would have frozen on my cheeks if it hadn’t been a balmy 45° out. 

Josiah Laubenstein in his previous life as a farmer
Josiah is almost always all smiles!

While you may look down on me for laughing so hard at people trying their best—and failing spectacularly—to stay upright on a patch of ice, I want you to know I laugh from a place of kinship. I grew up in Phoenix, AZ. Ice is not my friend. Snow isn’t either. I have ice skated twice and skied once and my skiing adventure ended with me running into a 5-year-old girl on a downhill slope. She kept her balance while knocking me flying. My poles and skis arced gracefully and I rolled like a dying bird 30 or so feet down the hill. The little girl skied back up to me to and asked if I was “al-wight.” Everything was fine but my pride. She skied off backwards, the little showoff.

I have a confession: I laugh when people fall down. If they’re hurt, of course I help. But I am a simple man with simple pleasures. And there is no simpler comedy than physical comedy. Youtube is a great source of this. People trying desperately and failing hard. Simple comedy is the best comedy. Farces are truly simple comedy. Boeing Boeing follows the misadventures of Bernard, who has three gorgeous fiancées, each flight attendants on different airlines who are never in town at the same time. When disrupted schedules find them all under the same roof for one madcap weekend, sparks fly!

Josiah Laubenstein as Bernard in Boeing Boeing
Josiah will play Bernard in our production of Boeing Boeing.

I performed in Boeing Boeing four years ago. I love it. There is very little better than when actor and audience are unified in the same breath, and in my experience laughter is the easiest way to get there. Laughter brings people together. I am thankful that Boeing Boeing will be my introduction to the Commonweal audience. Profound? Neither am I. Joyful? Willing to laugh? Definitely. I think that’s as good of a “Hello!” as I could have. I can’t wait to see you all soon!

Be sure catch all of Josiah’s antics, along with the rest of the stellar cast in Boeing Boeing, which begins performances May 10th. Join us for this hilarious farce, directed by a Commonweal favorite, Craig Johnson! For Tickets —-> Performance Calendar

A Commonweal Debut

Twin Cities director Peter Moore is making his directorial debut at the Commonweal with Holmes and Watson. So Peter, what has your first experience with us been like?

I can summarize my experience in Lanesboro in one word: who knew? (Yes, I know that’s two words, so sue me. Remember, there are only three kinds of people in the world: Those who get math and those who don’t). Who knew there was this talented, committed theatre company in such a small town? Who knew that the theatre building was so lovely, intimate and well-equipped? Who knew that the town boasted such great places to eat (including The Pastry Shoppe, which may well be one of the very best restaurants in the state)? Who knew that the tiny little corner grocery store carried such a wide variety of healthy foods and sold their very own delicious chocolate chip cookies at the counter to boot? Who knew, in other words, what a charming delightful place this is to come live and work?

Peter Moore, director of Holmes and Watson
Peter Moore directs our 31st Season opener, Holmes and Watson by Jeffrey Hatcher.

Well, probably all of you knew, but I sure didn’t. My pervious experience with Lanesboro was limited to a visit 25 years ago to go biking, and while that was certainly enjoyable, it wasn’t particularly memorable; in fact, my most vivid recollection is seeing a baby rattlesnake slither quietly off the bike path as I approached. The theater was there, but I didn’t see a show, and I remember almost nothing about the food, although I do seem to recall thinking the breakfast at Mrs. B’s was pretty good.

Directing Holmes and Watson at the Commonweal has been an unmitigated pleasure. From the actors, to the designers, to the crew, to the staff, everyone has been wonderful to work with. Maybe that’s because the actors, the designers, the crew and the staff are all pretty much the same people—nobody does just one thing here—but whatever the reason, it creates a terrifically creative and supportive artistic environment. The company is made up of a talented and very dedicated group of theatre professionals, all of whom are smart, kind and a delight to work with. The locals I’ve encountered have been unfailingly pleasant, and even the weather, dark and cold as it is in any part of Minnesota during winter, has provided a certain calm and quiet. Coming out of rehearsal at 10pm on a February night to find the streets utterly deserted and peaceful is a unique and not at all unpleasant sensation.

In short, I would happily return to Lanesboro, and the Commonweal, anytime. Except on Mondays and Tuesdays—the Pastry Shoppe is closed.

Peter, it has been a pleasure to have you here! Be sure to see his work as director for Holmes and Watson, which opens this weekend, join us! For Tickets —-> Performance Calendar