Masks of comedy
Four strings of brightly colored Christmas lights hung above the stage, illuminating the playful masks of the actors’ faces.
The atmosphere was reflected in the actors’ stage presence and through quirky props: tricycles, pineapples and loaves of bread that flew across the stage.
This was Commedia dell’Arte, a comedy based on short, physical slapstick and improvisational skits from Italy, directed by Tom Casciero, professor in the Department of Theatre Arts.
The stories range from intertwined love affairs to sibling antics, Casciero said.
“There is Pantalone—the wealthy old miser, Dottore—the fake know-it-all, and Pedrolino and Arlecchino—the tricksters,” Casciero said. “There are lovers, servants, and mistaken identities. And of course, everything works out in the end.”
Senior Nina Kauffman plays Isabella, the girl that nearly everyone is pining for. She compared Commedia’s humor to contemporary television comedy.
“[Commedia dell’arte] is like Italian based
theater SNL but from the 1600s,” Kauffman said.
One of the scenes begins similarly to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when the narrator introduces the basic plot of the play and all 14 characters. The narrator even “mistakenly” begins his monologue with the opening stanza of Romeo and Juliet.
Many of the actors donned frightening and creepy masks that made for a challenge on many of the non-masked actors’ parts, Kauffman said. The facial expressions of the masks create a unique acting challenge.
“You need to remember to treat [masked actors] as humans,” Kauffman said.
While the skit navigates its series of twists, turns and triumphs, the actors said they keep it contemporary by way of present-day societal references, such as Pantalone’s comment on the “one percent,” Dottore’s diagnosis of Pedrolino being that he has “Beiber fever” and even multiple characters spontaneously breaking out into Phil Collins numbers.
Senior Marina Ybarra said the best part was getting to enjoy the physical slapstick comedy and have fun embracing her role.
“[The best part] is seeing my best friends, acting crazy and having fun while having a lot of creative freedom,” she said.
Creative freedom is essential, Casciero said.
“Improvise to create,” he said. “It’s about taking little pieces and bringing them to life through training and plot setting. An amazing amount of work and refining was done in 12 weeks and that is really hard. Directing is giving [the actors] the freedom to be really creative but know when to rein it in.”
The show runs from Wednesday, Nov. 14 through Saturday, Nov. 17.