HARLEQUIN GOES TO BOLOGNA, directed and adapted by Sue Crystal; designed by Mark Bachman; costumes by Peter Zakutansky; lighting by Tomm Tomlinson; with Matt Mitler, Ellen Cole, Jim Nugent, Gahan Hammer, Patricia O'Neil, Nancy Paris, William de Rham, Richard Hart, Sally Connors, Terry Anastassiou, Robert Carroll and Shelley Harris.
At the Studio Theatre through Dec. 28.
There's a lot of talent and training in "Harlequin Goes to Bologna." And sweat. And laughs.
The Studio Theatre has concocted a double bill of commedia dell'arte that ropes in such unfamiliar features of Italian Renaissance life as Godzilla, kung-fu, Master Charge and "The Godfather." Yet there is a kind of reverence in the company's irreverent treatment of this obscure theatrical form -- a desire to make commedia dell'arte as crude and lowbrow for a 20th-century audience as it was for a 16th-century one. And the cast displays the timing and physical dexterity that make farce sing.
Commedia dell'arte arose in Venice and Lombardy in the mid-1500s. It took some of its inspiration, clearly, from Latin comedy, and provided some of the inspiration, just as clearly, for such present-day entertainments as "Mork and Mindy" and the movies of the Marx Brothers. Indeed, Matt Mitler, who plays the exhausting lead role of Arlecchino (the harlequin), has taken a few of his cues from Harpo Marx and Robin Williams, and he has a generous share of the same sort of talent.
Director Sue Crystal has drawn on two standard scenarios, "Dr. Arlecchino, or The Imaginary Autopsy" and "The Lovers of Bologna." In both, Ellen Cole appears as a conniving housemaid with a funny technique for reviving unconscious persons -- to wit, standing on them and fanning them with her dress. She also gets to say (to Arlecchino), "I am a book that thou hast chosen from the vast library of women. Open me!"
Gahan Hammer also recurs, agreeably, as Il Dottore (a traditional, bespectacled commedia character), along with Nancy Paris as his eligible daughter and Jim Nugent as a lecherous neighbor. Before the performance, and between plays, Robert Carroll and Shelley Harris, jugglers/acrobats, provide genuinely entertaining incidental entertainment. And Mark Bachman has designed a magnificent cartoon set that evokes the style and period.