When the curtain is lifted on Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan’s new production, Princess Ida, the ensemble cast are assembled onstage as members of King Hildebrand’s (Ahmed Ahour ’19) court, gazing out into the audience with telescopes. They are looking for the eponymous heroine, whose failure to arrive breaks a marriage vow to Hildebrand’s son, Hilarion (Nicholas Renton ’19), made during her infancy by her father, King Gama (Reilly Hayes URI ’17). Gama comes instead with his three sons, buffoonish knights who are quickly imprisoned, along with their father, until Ida can be summoned.
Achieving this goal turns out to be more difficult than expected, however, as a liberated Ida has sworn off men entirely and founded her own women’s college, of which she is president. The only remaining option, Hildebrand’s court concludes, is to send Hilarion–along with his two trusty companions (Harlan Epstein ’19 and Jacob Laden-Guidnon ’18)–off to the college to reclaim Ida.
If all this set-up sounds like a lot, fear not: it is all taken care of in a breezy first act. The meat of the work is the second act, set at Ida’s college, in which the three young heroes dress in drag and attempt to infiltrate the women’s-only community to comedic effect. Naturally, of course, this premise is merely a foundation for a deeper exploration of gender roles and stereotypes. Unsurprisingly, Gilbert and Sullivan, writing in the late 19th-century, did not share all-too-similar views on such issues as Brown students in the early 21st.