Tuesday, May 03, 2011
The Glorious Ones”
Reviewed by James Foritano
“The Glorious Ones” at The Arsenal Center for the Arts until May 7th is a scintillating revival of a a Broadway musical celebrating the Commedia dell’ Arte, a 16th century Italian theater based loosely on plot, but sustained mainly by improvisation and acrobatics.
Our modern slapstick - think The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin or Lucille Ball, is inspired by the rowdy antics of these wandering players. Not only slapstick, but any theater in which quicksilver turns of incident and emotion seem to interrupt predictability – think Shakespeare – is indebted to the nimble minds and bodies of this tradition.
Such a weight of history could easily overbalance a night of fun, but F.U.D.G.E. theater company manages handily to tell this weighty history through the singing, grimacing, capering bodies of its dedicated actors.
Curt Fennell embodies Flaminio Scala, the driving force of this madcap band of thespians. He takes his fun, erotic and theatrical, where he can get it, but when the “Glorious Ones” are invited to perform for the court of the king of France, Flaminio is all business. Alternately baggage master and martinet, Flaminio carries his “glorious” troupe to new heights, but also to attendant slippery slopes.
“The Glorious Ones” focuses on that point in history when written theater is taking precedence and prestige over improvisation. Written scripts give nuance to stock characters and more detailed plotting gives marching orders to actors attuned to scanning restive audiences, ready colleagues, for just that right moment to insert a pertinent, and often impertinent, diversion.
The comedy and tragedy of progress is illustrated brilliantly, pognantly by actors who take their rollicking roles so seriously that, over a lifetime of rehearsals and applause, they’ve become Pantalone, Arlecchino, Columbina, Armanda. Take off that mask and you’ve taken off the face behind it. Ouch!
Flaminio as the impresario/lead actor of this doughty, star-crossed troupe performs their “swam song” to a plaintive, bitter end. But the audience senses portents of demise, and also of rebirth in the bouncing action, haunting songs which the F.U.D.G.E. ensemble sprinkles throughout this rare, polished tribute to actors past and to come of Commedia dell’ Arte.