Insects Creep Into Theaters --
Sometimes in Starring Roles
Insects, it seems, are everywhere in nature. The same could also be said
about insects in literary works. These six-legged creatures can be found
in surprising numbers creeping about in music, prose, poetry and movie
scripts. Sometimes insects are the focus of the work. At other times,
the insect presence is a minor one.
Insects are also associated with stage productions -- not so much as
characters in the production as pests in the venue! But in one legitimate
play, insects are the lead characters.
That play, written in 1922 by Josef and Karel Capek is entitled "The
Insect Play." The Brothers Capek, as they were known in their native
Czechoslovakia, collaborated on several productions. Karel was a novelist
and short-story writer, as well as a playwright.
Capek's plays often focused on large, philosophical themes in which elements
from science fiction and fantasy were incorporated. One of these plays,
"R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)," introduced the term robot
to the common language. It was derived from the Czech "robota,"
which referred originally to dull work. Capek's robots, however, weren't
machines; they were "simplified" beings.
But back to the creatures that some people consider living robots --
insects. The three-act play of the Capeks involving insects is a satiric
comedy, which is still produced around the world. It is a work in three
The playwrights give a whole band of insects human qualities. Through
those insects, we catch a glimpse of human lives, often our own. The prologue
of the play features an encounter between a sleeping vagrant and a butterfly
collector bent on adding a few more specimens to his collection. The need
to collect and kill butterflies isn't apparent to the vagrant, even though
the collector explains it is for the love of nature. A contradiction for
sure, but one of many that the vagrant will encounter as he views insects
living lives with human frailties throughout the play.
Act 1 is about love and pursuit of the opposite sex. The insects chosen
for this activity are butterflies. Wonderful casting, I say. After all,
most of us have noticed the butterflies chasing each other in sport as
they go through mating rituals. The characters include flirts, teases,
romantics and macho males. It is a soap opera fitting for daytime television.
Act 2 is about the material things in life. There is a middle-aged couple
of dung beetles that push a ball of manure around, looking for a place
to invest their nest egg. These insects remind some folks of Archie and
Edith Bunker, at least in the way they address each other in not-so-endearing
terms. Mr. and Mrs. Cricket, a young couple expecting their first child,
are in search of their first home. Also in the act is a father who dotes
on his daughter. It is a sad act where few achieve their goals. All of
the outcomes in this act prompt the vagrant to wonder about the meaning
of it all.
The final act features yellow and red ants engaged in a life-and-death
struggle for a piece of land. This is a depiction of the issues surrounding
war. The choice of ants for this act is perfect. Ants, as social creatures,
go to war with each other about as frequently as do humans.
In the end, the vagrant -- well, I don't want to spoil the ending. After
all, who knows when this insect play will show up in a theater near you.