Review: An Evening of Commedia dell'Arte

Working closely with her actors, Shanlon Gilbert crafted an immensely entertaining production involving two semi-improvised sketches playing to traditional Commedia storylines.

“Double rainbow across the sky! Wow!”
What does it mean? Well, YouTube references aren’t exactly what you’d expect from An Evening of Commedia dell’Arte. But lo and behold, there was Galileo (played energetically by first-year Brenna Satancrose) prancing across the stage, pronouncing in an affected stage voice, “Hide your kids. Hide your wives. ‘Cause they’re rapin’ everybody up out there.”
So kicked off the King’s Theatrical Society’s 80th season. Conceived and directed by first-year Shanlon Gilbert, the show was good-ol’ (Italian) fashioned fun. Working closely with her actors, Gilbert crafted an immensely entertaining production involving two semi-improvised sketches playing to traditional Commedia storylines.
While the first of the two character-driven sketches was clearly stronger than the second, the characterizations in both made the show worth seeing.
Gilbert and her cast brought to life the tradition’s standard characters, often with their own twists. (Pantalone and Brighella as 1930s mafia types/semi-British grunge underground gangsters? Why not!)
Ana Matisse Danifer-Hickie (a first-year – see the trend?) as Arlecchino and Pulcinella hit a particularly high note in the show. Her physicality and comic timing as Arlecchino were those of a seasoned comedic actor, making for some serious slapstick humour (get it?).
Torin Vigerstad as Brighella and Scaramouche and Marina Gwynne as Fiorinetta and Colombina (more first-years) also showed comedic prowess far beyond their age. Vigerstad singing the praises of breasts and Gwynne’s portrayal of the hideous Fiorinetta (including when she gets brown-paper-bagged) had the audience in stitches.
Patrick McGuire, a fourth-year (gasp!) as Pantalone and Il Dottore was certainly an audience favourite, not only for his Wayne Hankey impersonation but also his uncanny ability to steal his scenes (in the most hilarious way possible).
The cast and crew clearly went to great lengths to be as accurate as possible with several historical aspects of the play – lazzi and all. If you don’t know what a lazzi is, it would have been explained at length in Gilbert’s mid-show lecture on the history of Commedia which she included, almost verbatim, in the program. This quasi-intermission unfortunately drained the audience’s energy, forcing us out of our willing suspension of disbelief. While I understand costume changes are tough, I find it hard to believe that such a talented group of improvisers couldn’t conceive of a more creative entr’acte.
While it would have been nice to see some kind of effort put into making the KTS Red Room some kind of a viable theatre space, the limits of the room were certainly not the production’s fault. If nothing else the actors should be commended for trying to find their way backstage through overlapping curtains while the masks they’re wearing offer only small peepholes to see through.
And while the actors were a little shaky (it was the first night of an improvised show), Gilbert delivered a consistently funny piece of comedy. True to the nature of Commedia, the show brought the crass, politically incorrect vulgarity of the art into the present day (hence the YouTube and breasts).
Most exciting about the show was the talent. If the performances of these actors say anything about this year’s crop of first years, we’re in for a good run, baby.
An Evening of Commedia dell’Arte runs Oct. 28-31, 2010. See for details.

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