The aroma of cloves and bitter orange will waft over the audience in Kresge Auditorium this Friday with the advanced Italian students' production of Niccolò Machiavelli's ""La Mandragola"."
The play, titled "The Mandrake Root" in English—a product of the semester-long efforts of Associate Professor of Italian Arielle Saiber's Italian Renaissance Theater class—is regarded as one of the most influential productions of Italian Renaissance theater.
"Machiavelli makes some major innovations with this play...it's a turning point for theater—the layers of intrigue are deeper, the characters more complex," said Saiber.
Written in 1518, "La Mandragola" is a deeply satirical, erudite comedy that offers a harsh critique of contemporary Florentine society.
"It's about the corruption of the church...it's about trickery," said Carina Sandoval '10, who worked with Saiber on the production of the play as part of an independent study in the history of Renaissance theater and set design.
"It really brings home the Machiavellian point of the ends justifying the means," said Sandoval.
The production truly engulfs the audience in the rich atmosphere of sixteenth century Florence, staying as true to the original depiction as possible.
Not only is the piece performed in the original language of Renaissance Italian, but candles are also used to illuminate the stage and clove essence will spice the auditorium, true to the theatrical traditions of the period.
The production reflects Sandoval's in-depth study on the intricacies of Renaissance set design, which coupled with the Italian Theater class's intense study of Italian theater makes for a very emotive, complete rendering of Machiavelli's work.
"We studied seven Renaissance plays in-depth along with the history of Renaissance theater...the students are bringing a great deal of knowledge of the play and the language to the stage," said Saiber.
All of the students in the production are Italian minors, or majors in Romance Languages, many of whom studied abroad in Italy.
"It's cool to be able to show all of our work studying Italian this way," said Sandoval.
Christine Carletta '10, who acts in "La Mandragola", said, "I had a lot of fun doing this...it's really great to see how Machiavelli's commentary is presented."
The production's focus on presentation truly brings to life the world of Machiavelli, allowing both the actors and the audience an escape into the political and sexual dramas of Renaissance Italy.
Aside from the striking set of 16th century Florence and the rich costumes of the actors, the language of the piece is what truly brings it to life. Saiber's class will perform entirely in sixteenth-century Tuscan Italian, which differs significantly from contemporary Italian speech.
"The students had to unlearn some of the grammatical rules they had spent years learning... it's really an accomplishment. And because of their understanding of the play and of Italian Renaissance theater, they are able to bring feeling and humor to the performance," said Saiber.
For audience members not versed in Renaissance Italian, supertitles grace one side of the stage.
"I hope [the audience] will be able to enjoy reading the English and watching the performance," said Saiber.
Though some of the wordplay will be difficult for those unfamiliar with Italian to decipher, the resonance of Machiavelli's original words adds much to the richness of the production and contributes to its humor.
"We read all sorts of Italian plays," said Sandoval. "We picked this one because it's a comedy...[we thought] it would be fun to watch."
Even at its current running time of 115 minutes, the group's production of "La Mandragola" is but an abridged version of the original play, which in Machiavelli's era would have run well over two hours.
"We had to cut some very interesting political monologues, but we didn't cut the original language of the play," said Saiber.
The abbreviated version still contains much satirical drama, as it focuses on archetypal conflicts of Florentine culture.
Saiber commented on the accessibility of the piece when she said, "the Renaissance themes are going to be pretty familiar to people who have studied Renaissance literature before...there's the greedy priest, the love-infatuated young man, the stupid husband."
Actor Morgan Andersen '12 said, "[the play] is a lot more relatable than most other [Renaissance] plays."
With its harsh satirical lens on sixteenth century Florentine culture, "La Mandragola" offers a humorous commentary on enduring political and sexual norms. In the words of actress Sarah Luppino '10, through the production the "Renaissance comes alive."
"La Mandragola" is showing tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, free and open to the public.