“Comedy of Venice” is a mildly diverting amusing pastiche of an old art form—the Commedia dell’ Arte. Focusing on two rivals for the hearts of Venetian playgoers, Carlo Goldoni (John Morogiello) and Carlo, Count Gozzi (Yury Lomakin), this modern version of a traditional Commedia dell’ Arte performance hits all of the stylistic tropes of the original form. (This show takes as its starting point real people—Goldoni and Gozzi).
. . . a fun and diverting way to spend a couple of hours and learn more about the Commedia dell’ Arte and its role as a forerunner to the more modern form of playwriting we have today while having some good chuckles.
Historically, these productions were improvisations based on a scenario—they were stock characters, as they are here in this play, and work masks. In the fullness of time came a rivalry between Gozzi who wanted to preserve, as in amber, the traditional Commedia dell’ Arte, and Goldoni, who decided that complete scripts and no masks with perhaps more varied stories would be just the thing. ‘Comedy of Venice’ encapsulates their feud. By the way, guess who is remembered today, and even has statues erected to him? Sorry, I won’t give that away.
So, in the finest Commedia dell’Arte tradition, we have a Pantalone (Terence Heffernan, rich merchant trying to get his daughter into the nobility); Tartaglia (Paul Reisman, professional class known for his stutter); Truffaldino (Elizabeth Darby, servant who has a weird hopping gait and will serve whoever pays the most); Isabella (Claire Derriennic, the daughter of Pantalone), and the two afore-mentioned playwriting rivals.
As with most classic farces, there are mistaken identities, mistaken motives, bumbling and hapless foolery all around. One of the keys to success in this type of show is the speed with which it is accomplished; that, and the broadness of the comedy. This is not, and was never intended to be a subtle art form.
The cast as a whole performed admirably and whole-heartedly. Yuri Lomakin as Gozzi and John Morogiiello as Goldoni were surprisingly matched in height and physical form and had a really wonderful rapport for two rivals; they were genuinely funny together. Both can flounce offstage with the best.
“Comedy of Venice” was authored by Jon Morogiello and directed by Stan Levin; both obviously love this art form and are having fun with the traditional elements. The on-point costumes were created by Elizabeth Kemmerer, and the flexible set by Ali Mark.
This is an interesting foray into a very stylized, comfortingly predictable art form; it is like stepping back in time to a period when art was discussed, dissected, and displayed throughout the public sphere. It’s a fun and diverting way to spend a couple of hours and learn more about the Commedia dell’ Arte and its role as a forerunner to the more modern form of playwriting we have today while having some good chuckles.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.
“Comedy of Venice” at Best Medicine Rep Theater, Gaithersburg, MD, through February 23, 2020. For more information, please click here.