note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
A Mountebank … Jay Cross
Franceschina, his assistant … Molly Overholt
Pantalone, a merchant … Michael Bergman
Arlecchino, Pantalone’s servant … Chris Shannon
Isabella, Pantalone’s wife … Jennifer Kobayashi
Oratio, a gentleman … Aaron Santos
Spavento, a Spanish Captain … Alex Newman
Mustaffa, a Turkish slaver … Michael Yoder
Fatima, a beautiful slave … Tanina Carrabotta
Flaminia, daughter of Pantalone … Catherine Crow
Gratiano, a doctor … Carl West
Olivetta, his servant … Abigail Weiner
Vocalists: Molly Overholt, Myra Hope Bobbitt, Lynn Noel, Chris Shannon
One advantage a repertory company has is that lightning can definitely strike twice --- it can strike even more if the troupe is good (as with Ryan Landry & The Gold Dust Orphans). Last February, I was enchanted by a performance of a 17th century commedia dell ‘arte scenario, DA SCHIAVA A PADRONA (FROM SLAVE GIRL TO MISTRESS) as adapted and performed by members of I Sebastiani, The Greatest Commedia dell ‘Arte Troupe in the Entire World. Last night I attended the premiere of the troupe’s original comedy SCHIAVI DI AMORE (SLAVES OF LOVE); lightning has definitely struck twice within the small confines of the Leland Theatre; judging by these two shows alone, I’ll say that I Sebastiani, The Greatest Commedia dell ‘Arte Troupe in the Entire World has many, many more bolts up their colorful sleeves.
The plot is a clothesline to hang the banter and gags upon: Flaminia, daughter of Pantalone and Isabella, has been lost at sea for three years and presumed drowned. The rich but penny-pinching Pantalone is appalled at Isabella’s extravagant mourning: she intends to build a costly memorial fountain for their daughter from which wine, not water, will flow. Little do both parents know that Flaminia has returned to their town of Ravenna in chains as a slave to the greedy Turk, Mustaffa, who plans to sell her and Fatima, another slave, for a pretty ducat. Oratio (Flaminia’s beloved), Pantalone and Gratiano (a lascivious doctor) outbid each other as to who will claim Flaminia; in the end, the young lovers are reunited and the Turk ends up with an unusual addition to his harem. It’s all grand fun.
Once again, I Sebastiani, The Greatest Commedia dell ‘Arte Troupe in the Entire World performs in period costumes; Pantalone, Arlecchino, Spavento and Gratiano wear the traditional masks; and there is some lovely singing during the interludes. Aaron Santos, the Oratio, is the one member who has the required agility that commedia dell ‘arte demands, but everyone plays with such gusto (i.e., The Joy of Ham) that Alex Newman’s opening boast that I Sebastiani is The Greatest Commedia dell ‘Arte Troupe in the Entire World may ring true after all (there is one “blue” line in particular that is so good that I’ll not repeat it for fear of spoiling it). The four Masks come off the best (does shielding the face free the actor?), but Jennifer Kobayashi as the dowager mama more than holds her own against these zanies.
A special mention goes to Jay Cross and Molly Overholt, who drummed up business outside the theatre; I watched them through the window of a restaurant across the street and was touched at their period figures dumbshowing in timeless fashion as 21st century life flowed about them.
If you love commedia dell ‘arte, then come. If you want to see where Shakespeare, Moliere and Goldoni drew some of their inspiration, then come. If you want to have a living, breathing theatre history lesson, then come. If you love theatre as theatre, then come. In time, may I Sebastiani, The Greatest Commedia dell ‘Arte Troupe in the Entire World be given the funding for their own performing space, complete with a Renaissance stage to spin out their scenarios upon. For now, they would be a welcome addition to any subscription season; they’re Boston-based and they’re all ours!
On the evening I attended SCHIAVA A PADRONA (FROM SLAVE GIRL TO MISTRESS), the nation has been advised to go out and purchase duct tape in case of a national emergency. Yesterday, Dubya raised the nation’s security level to Orange. Thus, my encounters with I Sebastiani, The Greatest Commedia dell ‘Arte Troupe in the Entire World have been with the specter of War hanging over them. Perhaps, further down the road, I Sebastiani, The Greatest Commedia dell ‘Arte Troupe in the Entire World can whip up a tale of war’s folly. After all, one of their characters is the Braggart Soldier….