Venetian writers Carlo Goldoni and Carlo Gozzi have a battle royale throwdown in this giddy world premiere, Comedy of Venice. Esteemed writer Goldoni (The Servant of Two Masters recently adapted as the successful One Man, Two Guv’nors) rules the roost in Venice, brandishing innovative approaches to comedy with characters reciting prepared lines from written scripts and performing them unmasked. Gozzi (Turandot) the upper crust savior of Italian tradition, comes into town calling for the traditional masked characters of Commedia dell’arte and improvised dialogue.
John Morogiello’s script turns a spotlight on this little-known battle for the soul of comedy in 18th century Venice. The idea of actors performing original scripts, speaking about society and current events was an alarming prospect in aristocratic Venice because then the commoner actor might get too full of himself (not “herself” yet), spouting lines that might make him feel like a nobleman. Heresy indeed!! The aristocracy has got to draw the line somewhere to keep everyone in their place, right? While theatrical reform was churning in Venice, revolutionary ideas were sprouting among the mostly illiterate masses. Morogiello sprinkles tidbits of social reality, lets the chips fall then bounce into realms of insight and full blown hilarity.
Yury Lomakin plays the chisel-faced, smooth-toned Gozzi who will stop at nothing to keep his grip on the status quo. His withering glare will freeze a peasant in his tracks and his booming voice will finish the smackdown. As Gozzi, Lomakin is menacing, and distinctively upper crust, and delightfully delicious to watch.
John Morogiello as rival Goldoni tries valiantly to introduce life, energy, reality to theater with scripts and interactions between characters, messages and meaning. He makes the compelling case that stock characters take off their masks and explore new ways of interacting with each other as real people. The premise is fascinating and Morogiello handles the joy of this discovery with grace and most of all Fun!
The ensemble players are gifted in the art of mime and physical prowess, essential qualities to successfully play commedia. The stock characters are easily recognizable: the talented Terence Heffernan as Pantalone the miser Father trying to marry his daughter to the highest bidder; Claire Derriennic, always wonderfully enchanting, this time as the daughter Isabella; Elizabeth Darby, endearing in a neat gender switch role as servant Truffaldino; and Paul Reisman, Producing Artistic Director of Faction of Fools, displaying his mastery of the art form as the potentially problematic character, Tartaglia, known for his stutter and the basis for characters that have endured for centuries. Director Stan Levin keeps antics moving swiftly as the characters fumble and bumble their way to determine which company will win over the hearts and souls of comedy in Venice.
Comedy in Venice closes February 23, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
The second act returns to the company’s slapstick roots as the characters trip over each other in the dark trying to steal money from Pantalone’s bedchamber where the stingy miser doesn’t see or hear a thing when the candles are conveniently blown out. He confuses the hosts of interlopers as ghostly visions while suitor Tartaglia climbs a ladder to the window then enters by easing along the wall casting reality aside. The play resolves with Goldoni being banished but maintaining his honesty and humble integrity.
Versatile set design by Ali Mark consists of a creatively designed backdrop, basic chairs and tables that can be covered as needed with satiny bedcovers, just the right height to crawl under and hide as needed. As in previous works, Elizabeth Kemmerer sets the perfect tone with crazy sophisticated costumes with characters in expertly designed waist coasts in zany colors, puffy sleeves, pantaloons, corsets – the works.
Comedy of Venice shows the continuing reach for this innovative young company determined to bring much needed comedy, camaraderie and downright fun to the region. The show is an example of the company’s touchstone ability to explore issues with intellectual curiosity, laughter, humanity, and verve. With this original work, Best Medicine has just added yet another fun-filled provocative romp of a piece to its growing canon of delightful treats.
Comedy of Venice by John Morogiello, Directed by Stan Levin. Cast: John Morogiello, Paul Reisman, Yury Lomakin, Claire Derriennic, Terence Heffernan Elizabeth Darby.Set Design: Ali Mark. Light: John Morogiello. Sound Design: Stan Levin. Costume Designer: Elizabeth Kemmerer. Mask Designer: Lynn Sharp Spears. Stage Manager: Gillian Lelchuk. Produced by Best Medicine Rep. Review by Debbie Minter Jackson.