Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Theater Critique #2: A Curious Mishap

“Oh, the stratagems of love!”


Carlo Goldoni's A Curious Mishap was a fantastic period comedy, relying on the common theme of mistaken identity, the machinations of love, and delightful wordplay to put the audience into a good humor. My initial skepticism (brought about by a recent less-than-stellar theater experience) was quickly overcome by the talented cast, all of whom have a penchant for pronunciation and whip-fast comedic timing, and the efforts of the unseen crew, which silently showed themselves in every aspect of the production.
This audience seemed to really enjoy the play, with near silence and very little of the whispering and shifting that is ordinarily observed in theater audiences. We laughed, gasped, and snickered at all of the appropriate moments, especially when the actors broke the ‘fourth wall’. Most tellingly, the play was the main topic of conversation as the audience members exited the theater and was even a topic of conversation on Facebook for the rest of the evening and part of the next day.
A Curious Mishap featured an ensemble cast, including Philibert (played by Alexander Huff) and Giannina (played by Brandi Goldsmith) as the main instigators of the events of the play, followed by various servants, lovers, friends, and dupes in a variety of roles. Philibert is wonderfully articulate, rolling over the play of words with skill and articulation. His voice is very much in character, and although he slightly lacks for sternness and isn’t quite as fatherly as I would have liked him to be, he is very much believable in his role as a prime mover and ‘philosopher’. Giannina is very much her father’s daughter, with the same clever manner and lack of hesitation towards the large and multisyllabic words. All of the cast members show an immense talent for articulation that is in line with their steady volume. The only character who could use a bit more practice is Riccardo (played by Clinton Blackwell, Jr.). While his diction is wonderful, he could use more volume. Even so, his performance was believable and enjoyable, and enriched the play. Costanza (played by Ashley Winfrey) was particularly delightful in her role as Riccardo’s less-than-bright daughter. Projecting and a articulating the higher-pitched, silly voice that was so perfect for Costanza could not have been easy, and this effort very much established her character as a comedic foil to the fraught situation. Gascoigne and De la Cotterie (played by Mark Deyesso, Jr. and Brandon Landers, respectively) exhibited perfect timing and tones in their first scene together, wherein the servant attempts to both assuage and manipulate his master.
The set was beautiful, featuring what seemed to be two ‘rooms’, but proved to be a flexible number of rooms and hallways. The furniture and backdrop, along with the medieval harpsichord music, really set the period before the actors even appeared on stage in their fantastic costumes. And yes, the costumes were fantastic. They were remarkably accurate, especially Riccardo’s stylish half cape and frill. The only cast member who could have used improvement was Giannina, whose costume was either not a great fit, or she was not as comfortable within it as her cast mates were within their own costumes. The hair styles weren’t the most accurate, but they were certainly the most appropriate, especially Costanza's comical updo.  The lighting was done well. I could see every actor’s faces, costumes, and the surrounding scenery, and the lights gave cues as to which section of the scenery was important at which time. Both the medieval-style music and the comical voice-overs during the reading of the letters helped set the scene.
The use of space was fantastic. The stage originally looked as though it had been divided into two spaces. Instead, it was an innumerable set of what became rooms and hallways as the actors strode within them, all perfectly catering to the setting of the play and the needs of the scene. The actors made fantastic use of the space, pausing on stairs, falling over sides, eavesdropping behind backdrops to great effect. The play moved along at a steady pace; not so slowly that we glanced at our watches and cell phone, but not so swiftly that we lacked time to appreciate the interplay of words and expressions of the actors.
The cast worked very well together, making body size/height, level of conventional attractiveness, and even race disappear into the play. Giannina’s responses to Philibert made him her father, regardless of their race and height differences. Marianna and Gascoigne’s passionate responses and gestures towards one another made their romance obvious, despite their seeming mismatch in height and weight. Gascoigne and De la Cotterie are to be especially commended for their command of their bodies. Although the entire cast exhibited fluid and natural movements, they showed remarkable body control during trips, falls, and romantic scenes.
The interactions of the actors really made the play mesh for me. I was initially reluctant to like this play, being predisposed to be extra-critical of Lawton theater, but I couldn’t maintain my reluctance after the first three minutes of the play. The most notable scenes were between Riccardo and Philibert, as they discussed the benefits of a match with a mere French soldier, between Philibert and Costanza, as he unwittingly convinces her of a previously unsuspected love for De la Cotterie, and between Philibert and Marianna, in the particularly hilarious ‘blockhead’ scene. Although Philibert’s interactions induced the most laughter, the tenderness between De la Cotterie and Giannina, the entertainingly one-sided exchanges between De la Cotterie and Costanza, and the passion between Marianna and Gascoigne all contribute to this fantastic play. I am looking forward to further Cameron University Theater productions, especially in the current ‘comical mishap’ season.

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