O.K., so this has probably happened to you some time in your life. You’re Arlecchino, (Ryan Sellers), servant to the young Leilo (Arturo Tolentino), who loves the beauteous Isabella (Leigh Anna Fry). This is fortunate for you, since Isabella is the daughter of the great Dottore (Jeff Hylden), who also employs the beauteous Colombina (Aniko Olah), who you love.
You therefore seek to smuggle a message to Isabella through Columbina, meeting with your amore in the great doctor’s receiving room. There, you discover to your horror that Leilo’s father, the hideous Pantalone (Dane C. Petersen) intends to marry Isabella himself, and has begun the financial arrangements to make it happen. Only the objections of Isabella’s fierce Teutonic mother (Jill Nienhiser) stand in the way of the match.
Suddenly, there is a knock on the door! You have no place to hide, so Colombina has you pose as a freshly-dead cadaver, brought in to help the Dottore establish his medical theory that the blood does not circulate. As a stiff, you delight the Dottore, since your heart still beats and your reflexes still work (as the Dottore finds out in a particularly painful way) even though you are dead. This somehow proves that your blood never circulated. As the doctor goes out to find the instruments by which he will pry you apart for his autopsy, patients pour into the receiving room. Mistaking you for the doctor, they ask for advice in finding a lost dog, for discovering if they are truly loved, and so on. You prescribe pills, and collect their fees.
Well, maybe this didn’t happen to you. But it does happen to Arlecchino on the stage at The Clinic, and if you watch it you will laugh so hard your cheeks will fall off. This is Commedia dell’Arte, an art form which approximates what would happen if Mel Brooks wrote for and directed the Three Stooges, and set his story in 17th-century Italy. There is wisecracking and there is kicking; there is slapping and there is sticking; and at every moment there is something to make you laugh.
I have seldom seen a cast so suited to a play, or a play so suited to its cast. For that, credit must go to director Roger Payano. And I’m not just saying that because he brought a case of water for the parched and feverish audience at the beginning of the play. I would credit him even if he let us wither (though, to be fair, the Clinic was suitably cool in the production I attended).
Let me say it again: the cast is fabulous – particularly Hylden, who gives his Dottore just the right touch of timorous pomposity, Olah, whose Columbina is awash in calculated lust, and Nienhiser, who as the Doctor’s wife appears at all times prepared to take a bite of his shoulder but who also convincingly plays a completely different character, the ?berhorny Zerbinetta.
But special mention must be made of the exquisite Sellers, who gives one of the best performances I have seen not only at the Fringe but in any production this year. In this, he is to physical comedy what, say, Synetic’s Alex Mills is to movement theater or Stephen Hawking is to physics – an undeniable master. The term “rubber-faced” does not do him justice; his face is made of some as-yet-undiscovered synthetic, which allows it to twist in unimaginable ways. I have not seen a man open his mouth so wide – and live to tell about it – since Joe E. Brown, a comedian during the time of the second Roosevelt. In addition to all this, he is obviously an acrobat, expertly executing pratfalls and spinning Hylden, a large man, around on his shoulder, seemingly effortlessly.
I know that Commedia dell’Arte is not for everyone. For example, if you are an old snootyface who doesn’t like to laugh, this show is not for you. But otherwise, come on down. You’d be a fool to miss it.
The Imaginary Autopsee
By Raoul Mas
Directed by Roger Payano
Produced by The National Conservatory of the Dramatic Arts (Nan Ficca, Producer)
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Running time: 65 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?