If you have never experienced Commedia del Arte, a great opportunity exists with the new work The House with Two Doors playing at Fort Fringe. If you have seen Faction of Fools’ Matthew R. Wilson perform The Great One-Man Commedia Epic, you know how much fun commedia can be when done well. In this new production by Faction of Fools, it is done very well to the delight of the audience.
First, a quick take for the uninitiated. Commedia del Arte is an Italian art form that flourished in the sixteen and seventeen centuries. It involves improvisational works created from a standard scenario (for The House with Two Doors, the Casamarciano scenario). It features lively characters based on standard types, such as the young hero, the wily servant, the lovestruck lady, and the old man, to name some found in The House with Two Doors. The works are broad farces that allow talented performers to enliven their roles with fresh wit and comedic innovation.
Here’s what we have in The House with Two Doors. Isabella (Vanessa Buono) wants to run away from her stifling home to seek romance and adventure. She meets the Spanish stranger Luzio (Graham Pilato) on the streets and they fall in love during the course of a sword fight. Aided by her crafty servant Pulcinella (J. Denise Perrino), she tries to conceal her home from Luzio, who is visiting her brother Orazio (T.D. Smith). Oratzio is in love with Ortenzia (Michelle Tang Jackson), but a case of mistaken identity has the two men coming to believe that each is pursuing the other one’s love. Meanwhile the fathers of the two ladies, Coviello (Chase Helton) and il Dottore (Toby Mulford), resolve to marry off their daughters to each other.
The delightful complications keep building in this hilarious story of romantic intrigue. As entertaining as the story is, it is the individual performances and the comic inventions that make the show so appealing. Graham Pilato shines brilliantly as Luzio, who may be the funniest lovestruck man I have ever witnessed on stage. Also excellent are Buono and Jackson playing the two young women who are endlessly amusing as they scheme to handle the lovers who woo them.
What adds special fun to the performance is the knowing wit of the company as they enhance the show using every trick in the book. Occasionally, a character will break the “fourth wall” to make a funny aside to the audience. The conventions of theatre are gently mocked. At one point a character inquires where there is a back door for a handy escape, only to be told “Of course. This is The House with Two Doors.”
Adding to the atmosphere are wonderful costumes and authentic Commedia del Arte masks. Costume Designer Lynly Saunders deserves special recognition.
There’s a special kind of art in presenting farce. This cast demonstrates a mastery of expert timing, funny expressions, and exaggerated emotion. It is a work of truly inspired silliness performed with great enthusiasm. It is hard to imagine anyone who would not enjoy The House with Two Doors.
The House with Two Doors
Directed by Matthew R. Wilson
Produced by Faction of Fools as part of Capital Fringe’s WATTAGE
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
The House with Two Doors plays through May 9, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.