note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi
Pantalone, a rich merchant of Ravenna … Carl West
Oratio, son to Pantalone … Aaron Santos
Flaminia, a beautiful slave … Abigail Weiner
Pedrolino, valet to Oratio - Andrew Kobayashi
Arlecchino, servant to Buratino … Alex Newman
Buratino, an innkeeper … Jay Cross
Vittoria, a woman of easy virtue … Cat Crow
Laura Conrad; Sue Delaney; Beth Kelly; Jean Monroe; Michael Yoder
Now that we all have duct tape and destruction on the brain, a visit with I Sebastiani: The Greatest Commedia Dell’arte Troupe in the Entire World is balm to the soul. This troupe, founded over ten years ago, brings back the vanished world of the commedia dell’arte, that glory of the Renaissance which used stock characters from ancient New Comedy and improvised scenarios (inspiring Shakespeare, Moličre, Goldoni and countless others). To laugh, simply and heartily, at material over four centuries old is to be comforted: Man may be a beast, ever building towards his own destruction, but he can still enjoy a well-executed pratfall --- Salvation through Low Comedy. I Sebastiani’s current offering, DA SCHIAVA A PADRONA --- FROM SLAVE GIRL TO MISTRESS, based on a 17th century scenario, will have vanished by the time you read this, but fear not: The Greatest Commedia Dell’arte Troupe in the Entire World promises to return in May.
The plot couldn’t be simpler: Oratio, son to the wealthy but miserly Pantalone, is in love with Flaminia, slave to Buratino, a kindly innkeeper. Pantalone plots to pack Oratio off to university and procure Flaminia for himself but with the assistance of the quick-thinking valet Pedrolino and the sympathetic bawd Vittoria (along with well-intentioned bungling from Buratino’s servant Arlecchino), Oratio triumphs over his lecherous father and is reunited with Flaminia, whose true identity is revealed to all. This may not be Art, but it is Great Fun.
I Sebastiani performs DA SCHIAVA A PADRONA in period: Pantalone, Arlecchino and Buratino wear the traditional masks; the young lovers are swooning ninnies; Arlecchino sports a slapstick about his waist (which, oddly, is never used). The action is rough-and-tumble and some of the timing is off, but the troupe’s bubbling good humor soon had me leaning forward, elbows on knees, enchanted, like a child at the circus --- especially when the performers are working without a net. There are clever touches throughout (i.e., the “Overture”: while four musicians play downstage, the ensemble is literally sketching in the locale, upstage) and the grinning banter, ad-libbed or declaimed, ranges from buh-dump-BUMP to true wit. What a wonderful introduction to the theatre, for children of all ages!
Carl West stands out as Pantalone, taking one’s breath away with his first (masked) entrance the brown, lined face with the hooked nose; the white nursery cap; the striped stockings and yellow slippers; the purse as a codpiece. When Mr. West --- a strapping young(ish) man --- advanced in a flat-footed mince, bickering like an old hen, his tongue darting here and there, the centuries fell away and I relaxed; the evening was going to “work”. Aaron Santos has a brilliant bit where his Oratio suddenly grows ten feet tall, and Cat Crow’s Vittoria is charming, cunning --- and feminine (she’s a bawd and that’s all there is to it; political correctness need not apply).
Should you still prove too timid to step into the Ramrod to witness the zaniness of Ryan Landry and his Orphans, then plan to attend I Sebastiani: The Greatest Commedia Dell’arte Troupe in the Entire World come the spring (their website: www.isebastiani.com.)