Hold onto your masks, the ride is about to get crazy! Watch out for flying hats, terrible bakery puns, sword fights, love, death, resurrection, and a literal slapstick. It’s what happens when you put eleven characters on stage together, there’s bound to be some conflict.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, all of this is tackled singlehandedly by the incredibly physical and hilarious feats of commedia actor, John Bellomo. Yes, you heard me, one actor, eleven characters, sharing the stage during a final showdown. I’d love to tell you how he does it, but I’d be giving away one of the most ingenious uses of mic stands I’ve ever seen.
Things start serene enough with stoically mute musician Andrew Clotworthy taking his place behind the keyboard and plunking out a peppy overture. However, Bellomo soon steps out to make an embarrassing announcement: the entire cast, with the exception of himself, is stuck in accident traffic on 95. They are going to be a little late. Thankfully for the audience, Bellomo has been attentive in rehearsals and reassures that he can handle things until they arrive. Clotworthy graciously provides a moving rendition of, “My Heart Will Go On” during the interim.
Dressed in a simple white costume and small ruff at the neck, Bellomo wastes no times jumping into the costume of his first character, the lovely, balcony-bound, pink-clad, lovesick, Isabella. Soon Bellomo is racing between characters, propping costume pieces on a coatrack that becomes a second, third and fourth character. In a pinch he’s even forced to trust the audience to toss him his hats, some with much better aim than others.
Part improv, part classic commedia dell’arte, part variety show, Bellomo works up a sweat flipping his cape from shoulder to shoulder, dancing the mambo with a lusty braggart and belting out tunes on his ukulele, all the while bringing the story to its climax.
What would turn into a muddled disaster in the hands of an unskilled actor, Bellomo manages with the finesse of a great comedian, fully in control but flexing his improv muscles every dance step of the way. To watch him is to witness a virtuoso of the outrageous. Each character had a distinct physicality, but not all were so clearly defined vocally. I wanted to hear eleven different voices; instead only a small handful of characters were vocally unique, everyone else basically sounded the same.
Yet, this production is a fantastic example of why commedia lives on five hundred years later through the likes of Shakespeare and Bugs Bunny. Thankfully for us, it breathes through the imagination of John Bellomo. It is both timeless and bitingly current, revealing archetypes and tendencies present in every human being. I’ve seen commedia, but I’ve never seen it like this.
Like a great Pixar film, Dead Man’s Mambo is funny enough to make to keep you laughing and clean enough to bring your five year old. How many Fringe shows can you say that about?
Dead Man’s Mambo has 5 shows, ending July 28, 2012 at Redrum at Fort Fringe, 612 L St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Rebekah rates this 5 out of 5, making it a Pick of the Fringe!