Faction of Fools The Lady Becomes HimBy Jacob Kresloff • May 7th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Faction of Fools: (Info) (Web)
Gallaudet University-Elstad Auditorium, Washington DC
Through May 12th
90 minutes, without intermission
$25/$15 Student, Senior, Military (Plus Fees)
Captioned with supertitles
Reviewed April 30th, 2013
Faction of Fools, the city’s leading Commedia dell’Arte theatre troupe, seeks to embrace the Italian tradition’s nuances and themes, all the while progressing towards a more innovative and accessible experience. The company concludes its fourth season with their enthusiastic production, The Lady Becomes Him. The play is ripe with vaudeville gags, slapstick, and the offhand popular culture reference. However, while the piece is filled with eager and selfless actors who clearly enjoy their work, unresolved and often times confusing chaos dominates the stage.
The play follows several love triangles. Orazio (played by Stephen Hock) loves Celia (Lindsey D. Snyder), but her husband Il Dottore (Matthew Pauli) forbids the affair. A foreign noblewoman, Isabella (Amelia Hensley) also loves Orazio, but is pursued by another foreigner, Luzio (James McGowan). Isabella rejects Luzio’s advances, confident that Orazio loves her. Meanwhile, Orazio’s servant, Coviello (Jesse Terrill), loves Isabella’s maid, Rosetta (Rachel Spicknall Mulford), who cannot choose between Coviello and Pulcinella (John Bellomo), Il Doterre’s servant. Orazio and Coviello devise a plot make Celia and Pulcinella switch bodies (using, of course, a set of magic rings), which will give Orazio a chance to woo and run away with Celia. Naturally, shenanigans ensues.
This play marks Toby Mulford’s DC directorial debut. He is a graduate of the dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre and a Faction veteran. Mulford, together with assistant director, Tyler Herman, adapted The Lady Becomes Him from a seventeenth-century plot outline titled Donna Zanni. This outline includes the classic tropes of infidelity, overlapping love triangles, disguises, and magic. Because the adaptation is based on an outline, certain moments in the play’s action become stagnant, forcing the actors to fill the gaps with improvised vaudevillian schtick: some gags work brilliantly, while others warrant only a chuckle. Some jokes, however, were flat to begin with, growing more tedious with each unnecessary repetition. The play’s comedic moments are most successful when they happen spontaneously and without warning. The conjuring of a spirit (known as the “Ringalungen”) and the company breaking into a composed sing-a-long become the highlights of the production solely because they were so unexpected.
The company displayed competency in the major components of the Commedia tradition: improvisation, exaggerated physicality, and comedic monomania. Pauli — aided by his ever-faithful stuffed companion, Dotteddy — is the ideal Commedia performer; his physical presence and fiery temperament made him the perfect candidate for the jealous nobleman. Hock’s performance was flawlessly timed as he minced across the stage, playing the part of the love-struck Orazio. Rachel Spicknall Mulford — who played both Rosetta and the “Ringalungen” — was particularly impressive. Her timing and improvisational skills left the audience roaring with laughter in most instances. Hensley and McGowan were perhaps the most successful in conveying the kind of physicality that the Commedia tradition requires. Armed with extravagant gestures, the pair never missed a beat and proved themselves proficient in slapstick.
While the actors should be applauded for their unbridled enthusiasm, I would argue that the physical comedy was rather chaotic. Very often did the actors run and roll around the stage without purpose or precision, making it seem like they were pandering more for a particular reaction from the audience, instead of authentically playing the comedic bits.
The theatre company is notable for incorporating the deaf and hard of hearing, as Faction works heavily with the Theatre Arts department at Gallaudet University. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of this production was the creative use of the theatre’s caption board which, when it wasn’t providing visual accompaniment to the spoken and signed dialogue, became a fully integrated and saucy addition to the cast.
In many ways, the production’s technical elements served their purposes without fail. Daniel Flint’s scenic design aptly captures the scenery of 17th-century Naples. I would, however, have liked to see the period-appropriate laundry hanging from the clothes lines used as a comedic device. In the opening scene, Pauli uses a pair of bloomers to disguise himself, seamlessly using the set pieces to enhance the gag. Chris Holland’s lighting design simultaneously added touches of naturalism and cheeky theatricality to the production. Lynly Saunders’ costume design smartly differentiated between social status and stock characters, while Aaron Cromie’s mask designs honored the Commedia tradition with acute perfection.
Faction of Fools’ production of The Lady Becomes Him is an enjoyable frolic through 17th-century Naples, peopled by a group of fun-loving actors. What the production lacks in physical precision and witty banter, it makes up in unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance.
This is a play about love, and the messes we get ourselves into because of it. This is not a new theme.
The Lady Becomes Her is a Frankenstein’s monster of a play. The skeleton is taken from a three-page document entitled Donna Zanni, from the Casamarciano Scenarios, one of only a few existing collections of plot outlines from the 17th century Commedia dell’Arte. The flesh and blood were created collaboratively by the actors and designers, mixing and matching oddly-shaped parts in a frenzy of experimentation. Tyler Herman and I have supplied the rawhide sutures to stitch it all together. The breath of life comes from you, the audience. And whether the resulting play stumbles about grunting and breaking lab equipment, or grabs a top hat and shuffles off to Buffalo, the hope is that it will at least be entertaining.
I believe that this haphazard form of playmaking is a perfect mirror for the haphazard nature of love. While we may do homage to love with sonnets and sonatas, the reality tends to be a bit more clownish, complete with pratfalls, comical stuttering, and the odd squirting flower.
Love and slapstick are both about people getting hurt, but not dying of it. Your heart gets broken, your bottom gets paddled, and you pick yourself back up and go on. This principle is what fuels Commedia: if the young lovers get together in the end, the world can go on spinning, no matter what kind of mayhem we all had to go through to make it happen. At the end of the play, we get to bask in the fulfillment of their love for a moment, before something goes wrong and we’re plunged again into chaos. Further comedy ensues. Life lurches misshapenly on. We hope at least that it is entertaining.
Photos by Second Glance Photography
- Il Dotorre, a powerful man: Matthew Pauli
- Celia, his wife: Lindsey D. Snyder
- Pulcinella, their servant: John V. Bellomo
- Orazio, in love with Celia: Stephen Hock
- Coviello, his servant: Jesse Terrill
- Isabella, in love with Orazio: Amelia Hensley
- Rosetta, her servant: Rachel Spicknall Mulford
- Luzio, in love with Isabella: James McGowan
- The Sorcerer: Amelia Hensley
- The Spirit: Rachel Spicknall Mulford
- Artistic Director: Matthew R. Wilson
- Production Manager: Sarah Conte
- Director, Managing Director: Toby Mulford
- Assistant Director: Tyler Herman
- Stage Manager: Alice Maglessen
- Assistant Stage Manager: Kathryn Dooley
- Scenic Designer: Daniel Flint
- Lighting Designer: Chris Holland
- Props Designer: Kristen Pilgrem
- Mask Design and Fabrication: Aaron Cromie
- Costume Design: Lynly A. Saunders
Disclaimer: Faction of Fools provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9471.
Jacob Kresloff is a recent graduate of Guilford College with a major in Theatre Studies -- history/literature track -- and a minor in German Language and Society from Rockville, MD. He is currently pursuing his interests in dramaturgy. He is currently the dramaturg for Field Trip Theatre's workshop and staged reading of local playwright Adi Stein's The Will. He is also working on several adaptation projects. Jacob's web site