note: entire contents copyleft 2003 by Will Stackman
Reviewed by Will Stackman
There's a fine line between re-creation of a theatrical tradition and re-enacting a performance from the past. In the first case, the result can be a new form building on its inheritance to produce something relevant to a contemporary audience. The second often depends so much on trying to interpret an often incomplete historical record as to result in a muddled picture more appreciated by those involved than those watching. The two shows done this season by I Sebastiani, the local commedia troupe which meets at M.I.T ( "From Slavegirl to Mistress” done last February at Durrel Hall, Camb.YMCA and "Slaves of Love" which just closed at Leland Center-BCA) fall somewhere in between. The problem may be that this group of dedicated amateurs (in the best sense of that word) is trying to reinvent a theatrical form which depended on daily repitition, an audience which understood the regional, cultural, and social implications of their characters, and traditions passed down through families possibly since the ancients. The stage experience of various members really hasn't prepared them for the rigors of the commedia, even after ten years at it.
That said, when "The Greatest Commedia Troupe in the Entire World" gets going, even in the confines of the Leland Center, something is reborn. The show had moments worth waiting for, and when routines didn't quite work, the next one was surprizing. The skills of various members of the group vary, and unlike their pre-17th century predecessors, members change roles from show to show. Alex Newman, the current capocomico, producer, director, and part-author of the scenario for each of these shows, played Arlecchino in February, but this time took on Spavento, the Spanish Captain, which fits his physical presence better. Jeff Hatalsky , the founder of the troupe, is also credited with this scenario. Carl West, who played a very detailed Pantelone last time, appeared as an even more lecherous Il Dottore Gratiano, a mask which wasn't in the previous show. For this show, Arlecchino was Chris Shannon, a more compact comedian with appropriate physical skills, but not as good a sense of comic timing. The fourth mask in this production was Michael Bergman as a genial Pantalone, whose avericiousness seems almost feigned.
The unmasked players, from the lovers, Oratio and Flaminia (Pantalone's daughter), to Isabella (Pantalone's wife), Olivetta (Gratiano's servant), Mustaffa the slaver, or Fatima, the slave girl had their moments. Catherine Crow (Flamina) did the best job of bringing her role up to the level of the masks. Aaron Santos' Oratio looks the part, but played the comic side of the love-smitten juvenile much more that the romantic. He doesn't keep up with Spavento in their scenes, however. Tanina Carrabotta did her part as Fatima without speaking a single understandable word, a comic device which could have been exploited more. Jennifer Kobayashi needed to find more range for her over-the-top spendthrift wife, but Abigail Weiner (Olivetta) struck just the right note as Il Dottore's housekeeper always one step ahead of his advances. Her "Don't touch me!" became one of the show's catchphrases. The only thing missing for Olivetta was some sort of relationship with either Arlecchino or perhaps even Spavento.
Improvisational theatre remains one of the hardest techniques to develop. The fact that I Sebastiani, despite their fits and starts, manages to get through complicated scenarios, getting more than a few laughs while practicing this discipline, makes this troupe a theatre resource to be encouraged. Let's hope they can find the wherewithal to perform next season, preferably for more than one weekend at a time in a venue with a higher ceiling. They're always looking for help. Check their website and plan to catch the next appearence.