Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"The Venetian Twins" by Theatre Forever at the Southern Theater

Wikipedia tells me that Commedia dell'arte is "a form of theatre characterized by masked 'types' which began in Italy in the 16th century." Theatre Forever is presenting the 18th century Italian comedy The Venetian Twins in such a style, with broad, exaggerated, physical comedy, as part of the Southern Theater's ARTshare program. Even though much of it is not really my kind of humor (like Dr. Jody Kimball-Kinney, I find the frequent "erotic pantomimes" to be more gross than funny), it's quite clever and very well done, with total commitment by the dozen members of the ensemble under the clear direction by Jon Ferguson.

In fair Verona, two estranged twins from Venice arrive on separate missions. Zanetto, wealthy but an idiot and a jerk, is about to enter into an arranged marriage with Rosaura, a doctor's daughter. Tonino, noble but poor, arrives to marry his beloved Beatrice. You can see where this is going - the two men's stories intersect, and people think Zanetto is Tonino, or Tonino is Zanetto, causing all kinds of crazy hijinks until the matter is sorted out. It's a whole lot of nonsense, but watching them get there is great fun.

A few thoughts about the show:
  • An adorably tiny stage is set up in the cavernous space at the Southern Theater, and actors not appearing in a scene on said stage are sitting off to the side watching. They also mill about onstage and in the audience before the show and during intermission, giving the whole thing a casual informal affair, making no pretense that we're doing anything other than watching a show.
Vlad Messing and Alex Barreto Hathaway
(photo courtesy of Theatre Forever)
  • The costumes (by Lori Opsal) are bright and colorful, with each character dressed head to toe in a single color, which just makes me happy to look at (and I want Beatrice's gorgeous jumpsuit!). Several of the characters also wear beautiful and disturbing masks (by Antonio Fava).
  • I wish they could have found a way to do the show with one intermission, or make the two intermissions shorter. In general I find intermissions to be a waste of time, and this is doubly so, along with breaking up the comic momentum. #intermissionpolice
  • As the titular twins, Alex Barreto Hathaway is brilliant at creating two entirely different characters, with different accents, mannerisms, and personalities. So much so that one of them I really didn't like, and kept wishing for the other more pleasant one to come out again. He's also very loose and playful with the audience, ad libbing on occasion when they do or don't respond to a particular joke.
  • Transatlantic Love Affair company member Allison Witham steals every scene she's in, displaying her genius at physical theater, miming nearly every word her character speaks like a one-person TLA.
  • Other highlights in the cast include David Beukema as the creepy and handsy Pancrazio, Catherine W. Noble and Amy Stockhaus as the intended brides (great performances, but it's disappointing to watch women literally crawl after these awful men), and a bright yellow-clad Vlad Messing as the man forced to choose between his friend and the woman he loves.
  • There's a running gag in which characters attempt to jump to their feet from lying on their back, and it's quite amusing to see who can and cannot pull it off, with the latter being much funnier, of course.
  • As someone who grew up on '80s and early '90s sitcoms, I found the Fresh Prince reference delightful.

The Venetian Twins continues through October 15 at the Southern Theater. Check it out for some fun, silly, escapist entertainment.