Matthew R. Wilson is a breath of fresh air, a Miracle Man, a robust Harlequin with many faces. From the moment Wilson somersaults on stage and stares at us in terror and runs for the nearest EXIT, he throws us off-guard. A master of many masks, he’s an acrobat full of surprises, able to yank an audience right out of its seats, to tip the world topsy-turvy, to prick any bubble of arrogance, and that includes our illusions about romance. He’s here to arouse us to celebrate Commedia dell’Arte globally. So look out. You may find yourself pulled from your seat and up on-stage beside him.
Nine leather masks of the classic Commedia characters (by world-renowed artisan Antonio Fava) are set out like skulls on a platform-like table for Wilson’s quick-changes. And what Wilson does is wonderfully nifty. This All-American boy-next-door is an inventive multi-tasker who dons a mask and like magic—his voice changes as he speaks in Italian or in English with an exaggerated Italian accent. He’s Pantalone, a Polonius-type, in black mask with white eyebrows and moustache, the tyrannical-father and cuckolded, rich old miser.
But wait, Wilson is also Truffaldino and Scapino, the scheming servants, with erectile noses. And then, Wilson untangles a convoluted plot into something straight-forward and clear without resorting to profanity. He gives us a delightful scenario, with a host of other characters (I lost count), about a pair of young lovers.
When Wilson is totally unmasked down to his own flesh, the actor is at his best. Wilson is fresh-faced Isabella, a high-pitched castrato; or with a shift of stance, the actor becomes the barrel-voiced, macho lover, Flavio. Together, Isabella and Flavio could be the persecuted prototypes for Shakespeare’s Juliet and Romeo; and they’re so madly in love, they want—wait—don’t hold your breath—15 children. But first, Pantalone, who is Isabella’s greedy, out-of-it father, must be outwitted by the more resourceful servants, Truffaldino, and the faster-on-his-feet and on-the-uptake, Scapino, whose name comes from the Italian verb “to escape.” There’s a totally outrageous, mistaken-identity sequence when Wilson, who is also a fight director for his day job, ends up fighting himself. Never has multi-personality disorder looked like such fun.
Overall, Wilson’s one-man show is much more than a slap-stick, pratfall comedy, although it is all of that. Just to remind us, an actual “slapstick” is mounted on a pedestal Stage Right and is used by the inventive Wilson as a flies’ swatter and as a sword. At tense high points, we in the audience are now and then cued-in to make buzzing sounds for the “mosca,” the fly, in Act I; or the whistling wind in Act III’s tavern scene.
A professional actor and Founding Artistic Director of Faction of Fools Theatre Company, home-based in Washington D.C., Wilson from one frenzied moment to the next is on a mission to celebrate the Commedia dell’Arte, globally, along with some 80 world-wide simultaneous performances in 20 languages this weekend. All thespians are urging us to support a precious cultural gem, as rare as Japanese Noh or Kabuki Theatres, for the next generation. (Somewhat similar in concept to The Laramie Project that helped Congressional passage of anti-hate crimes legislation in October 2009, the Italian cultural associaton SAT and the Faction of Fools Theatre Company want UNESCO, the cultural-arts wing of the United Nations, to recognize the importance of the Commedia dell’Arte as part of World Cultural Heritage.
If you’ve ever done improvisation in an acting class (as I have) you can easily become addicted. I hope Wilson’s Isabella and Flavio have more than 15 offspring to join the host of Commedia characters. Vive La Commedia but hurry. Limited performances end Monday. Running Time: 80 minutes without intermission.
The Great One-Man Commedia Epic
Created, self-directed and performed by Matthew R. Wilson
Produced by Faction of Fools Theatre Company, Inc.
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
The Great One-Man Commedia Epic closes Monday, March 1, 2010.
For details, directions and tickets, click here.