The Drama Society presented Classic Commedia, a part of ECSU’s Millennium Milestones of Theatre Series on April 25 thru April 29. Classic Commedia, also known as Pantalone’s Purloined Purse, is an original version of the highlight of Renaissance Italian Theatre – Commedia dell’Arte. The characters in the play presented at Harry Hope Theater included Edgar, Harlequin, Columbina, Smeraldina, Brighella, Pantalone, Isabella, Victoria, Angelica, Dottore, Tartaglia, Capitano, Ms. Capitano, Pedrolino, and Zanni. The play had physical humor of the slapstick genre and was directed by Larry Hunt. He helped teach students how to design and build masks for the show. Students originally developed the scenarios in the play.
As for the roots of Classic Comedia, traveling troupes performed Commedia dell’ Arte during the Renaissance and lasting into the eighteenth century. The company had ten or more actors each playing a specific type of character. Each character wore masks but when Commedia dell’ Arte was first performed female parts were played by males. The troupes started in Italy and moved into all of Europe and influenced theater in Spain, Holland, Germany, Australia, England, and France.
The character in Classic Comedia that fascinated me most was Pantalone. He was a rich and stingy man who held the highest social status of all of the characters in the play. He had servants working for him and was afraid of losing his money.
He wore tight red stockings, a jacket, and a loose black cloak with long sleeves. He also wore a red hat, slippers, and a money purse on his belt. Aaron Lathrop did an excellent job playing Pantalone. Some of the trademarks of Pantalone’s character included shuffling along the stage by using limited motion of his legs. He had bent knees with the pelvis open spreading the legs. He also walked hunched over similar to the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Pantalone was a very funny and realistic character. Even though his clothes were from the 18th century or before, he was funny and fits the stereotypes we have of rich people today.
Lighting played a special effect in the play. The play began with the lights going off and then back on and music was used to convey changes in the plot of the play. Lighting was minimal during emotional low points of the play and brightest at emotional high points of the play. Like other plays and even like musicals, characters come out and start singing about their feelings and emotions. It is similar to the characters in the ridiculous Saturday Night Live skits.
The costume used by the unnamed and disposable character fit his role perfectly. He identified how he could be inserted into any play at any time but not effect the storyline at all. The character had no mask but wore a white outfit and had a broom and cleaned the stage. He wished how he could be the captain and briefly became depressed at his character but later realized that he needed to pretend to be happy being the disposable character.
It is interesting to note that the characters Franceschina and Colombina are two of the only characters in the play that wear no masks. Both Franceschina and Colombina can be defined as having characteristics of Inamorata. Both characters wear a lot of makeup, love going after men but never follow through on it. They like to look at men from their balcony. Pantalone attempts to flirt with them but they aren’t interested in him probably because of his age and looks but more importantly his cheapness and bad attitude.
The message of Classic Comedia is that being greedy doesn’t pay off and that even people who put on a front that they are all together sometimes are not. The female captain played by Jill Luberto must be brave and courageous. Jill did an excellent job in showing the “mask” character she portrayed and also the inner and vulnerable character. This was especially true when the play was first performed because there was less respect for females than there is today. The female captain explains how lonely she is and how she wished she had people who truly loved her and how also she wished she had a husband.
I enjoyed Classic Comedia a lot because it was easy to understand, funny, and had both characteristics of the past and of the present. The play’s plot may be an old one but it will always carry with it its universal themes. The play had several plots going on at the same time but it was a unified production similar to how a soap opera has several plots going on at the same time but all of them together make up the show.