University of Calgary Press (2018)
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (09/18)
“The Comedian” by Clem Martini follows Titus Maccius Plautus, a struggling playwright in the Roman Republic, in his hopes to make a huge comeback by writing and producing a new comedy. In his efforts to do so, he hits quite a few snags, many of which involve the actors that he has selected for his masterpiece. As with many actors in our modern times, the ones during Titus’s era were no different with their addictive vices and questionable pasts. As might be expected, alcohol plays a huge role in these bad habits. Titus also has his own issues to deal with, including paying off a huge debt to a lender who will resort to violence when payments are late. Titus is fortunate when an ambitious, female business owner offers to back his current venture. He quickly realizes that there is more to her than he first assumed. Adding to the excitement, Titus gambles on his success by making a wager that will destroy him if he loses. Will Titus succeed? The question remains until the very end.
On a Sunday night, a huge tree limb fell, ending my access to the outside world via the World Wide Web. Without access to the Internet, television or even a deck of cards; books were my only source of entertainment for an entire week. Being able to read “The Comedian” was the perfect escape from my temporary drama. How could I feel badly about not having the Internet, when the protagonist, an accomplished playwright, is digging latrines in order to survive? I do have to admit that I tend to enjoy reading more than anything else anyway and was really pleased to be reading this novel. The story pulled me out of my modern world and took me back into the time of the Roman Republic where politics and caste systems ruled. Life really didn’t seem much easier than today.
“The Comedian” makes for a great escape! The author Clem Martini did an excellent job creating this story which takes us into the theater of the past, while entertaining us with a cast of eccentric, complicated characters. His vivid descriptions of the scenes bring this era alive. Not only could I see what the settings looked like during Roman times, I could also smell some of them. This wasn’t always pleasant because some of the characters were seriously lacking in personal hygiene skills! The characters usually had a great deal of depth. Whether it was Titus’s female business partner, the leading actor, or the shoe cobbler, they all had an interesting story in their personal histories. The protagonist Titus went through a lot of character development as he struggled to re-establish himself as a famous playwright. In addition to trying to earn an honest wage by doing hard labor, he was also was working on writing his play and handling the actors, who tended to have some issues of their own. There was not a single leading character who did not have some kind of complexity in their character development. Several of them had been slaves and struggled to strive towards something better. Their family histories were also very interesting because not all of the slaves came from impoverished families. The struggles that were involved as the play was created were very enlightening. Writing, funding, and casting the play involved a lot of time and work. The misbehavior of the competitors was also entertaining.
Following along on Titus’s misadventures takes the reader on quite a fun romp! I highly recommend “The Comedian” by Clem Martini to fans of historical fiction. It would also be a great selection for a college nonfiction course.