It took a few days of Fringe-going before I saw fake vomit hit the wall during a show (and, accidentally, the ceiling too) but thank goodness it came sooner rather than later.
Every Fringe festival needs a few shows like Tight Assets — a very funny hour of commedia dell’arte from Oakland, CA-based troupe AluA Ensemble.
Let me help triangulate this one: projectile vomit, crass jokes, and not-infrequent partial nudity. The troupe’s own description of the show reads: “A high-flying, lowbrow scatological spectacle!”
But not all shows are crap just because they feature it. Troupe members Amelia Adams, Michael Cavanaugh, and Alex Corby have all graduated from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, and they make a tight trio indeed.
Plays rooted in commedia dell’arte — a 16th-century style of Italian traveling theatre, usually rural and fresh-off-the-wagon — typically make use of prop trunks, masks, acrobatics, and stock characters. From the miserly old coot to the quack doctor to the lazy lothario, we recognize commedia characters for their big impact on modern-day entertainment (from sitcoms to clowning to sketch comedy). And the discipline it takes to hold such a whirlwind together is really astounding.
The script, building off a simple premise, is wonderfully scored and inventively written, with plenty of spots to veer off the path for a few moments of impromptu silliness. Characters abound — all three actors play multiple roles — but the show takes the decrepit geezer Pantalone (Corby) as the heart of the show. Pantalone runs a bank, assisted by the smart and punchy Columbina (Adams) and the doltish lackey Stupino (Cavanaugh).
Then the money from the bank goes missing. There’s a Scotsman in a pleater kilt. Someone gets an abortion. At one point the bags of money turn to puppets and talk to each other. There’s a Pulcinella doll. Arlecchino (also Corby) gets to stand up to the criminal, which doesn’t go well.
More stuff happens, but it’s not worth explaining here. You’d be better off pulling out a map on a log ride at the water park.
Which isn’t to imply that splashy is bad. On the contrary, Adams, Cavanagh, and Corby stay on-target throughout Tight Assets, executing slaps and whacks and flips and spins with strict timing and close contact (and good thing, too, because performing in the Bedroom is like performing in a cozy shoebox).
Although not every word from Corby could be heard through his Arlecchino and Pantalone masks on opening night, the three actors constantly matched each other physically and vocally.
Certain points of anatomy prove tight during the show, but AlulA Ensemble is so open and loose that it’s a joy to watch them play. They’re many things all at once — goodhearted and crass, silly and disciplined, showy and controlled. But such keen imperfection takes practice, and these three know their Italian history.
Hunter rates this 4 out of 5
Rating: 4 out of 5