by Anna Bratulic
Commedia dellarte is a highly physical theatre genre that keeps
coming back, because its just so much fun. It will be revived once
again March 8, when the Theatre Department mounts a production of Carlo
Goldinis The Fickle Woman in the F.C. Smith Auditorium.
The story revolves around a rich, young woman, Rosaura, who is unable
to decide which of her three suitors to marry. The decision is further
complicated by her tendency to change her mind, often for trivial reasons.
By the time Venetian playwright Goldini had written The Fickle Woman (La
Donna Volubile) in 1750, the heyday of commedia dellarte had long
passed. The theatre form, which originated in Italy in the 1500s, was
heavily improvised, with only general directions provided.
Its dwindling respectability, especially among the intelligentsia, was
due to the growing vulgarity of the pieces and a sense that theatre could
be much better if actors read from a pre-written text.
By the mid-18th century, it was felt that actors were losing their knack
to improvise as many were now getting used to memorizing lines.
Director Jean-Francois Gagnon took a moment just before rehearsal to explain
where the playwright was coming from.
Goldoni was trying to distance himself from the genre despite the
fact that he used traditional commedia dellarte texts. People liked
the genre, and to use elements other than those typically found in it
was often risky.
In keeping with the commedia dellarte tradition of performing in
public squares or spaces, a wooden stage with a simple painting as a backdrop
is set up in the F.C. Smith lobby, where the play will be presented.
The genre also uses a lot of stock characters. There is usually a bombastic
doctor (Il Dottore) or lawyer reciting endless monologues that are peppered
with Latin; a rich, old man (Pantalone) with a beak-like nose who is utterly
clueless about the goings-on of his scheming daughter or niece; and servants,
either smart-mouthed or dimwitted, who always manage to save the day.
Grandiose gestures and the use of masks makes rehearsing for a commedia
dellarte piece a little different from rehearsing for, say, a realistic
play by Ibsen or Chekhov.
Commedia dellarte demands a physical approach and offers a
certain visual style to the audience, Gagnon said, adding that this
is especially true for masks. A character has an intention, but
if the mask wearer only says the words with the intention in mind, it
wont be enough there must be a physical implication as well.
The challenge for Gagnon is to get his student actors to express their
characters through both their voices and their movements.
For example, the smart-mouthed lady-in-waiting of the indecisive Rosaura
greets her mistress with a general air of disdain, hands on her hips and
an offensively propped-up behind.
The Fickle Woman, by Carlo Goldini, runs from March 8 to 18 in the lobby
of the F.C. Smith Auditorium. Tickets are 5$ for Concordia students.