Sunday, May 17, 2015

I Gelosi (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Helsinki West is a new company, and David Bridel's I Gelosi their premiere production.  Last year Four Clowns did his Noah and Jonah (which proved amazing).

This play tells the (fictionalized, but passionate and powerful) story of one of the earliest and most famous Commedia dell'arte troupes in Renaissance Europe. We meet them all at the start of the play, as they introduce themselves and note each is dead, has been for centuries. We follow their history as they tell it--the three battle-scared veterans Guilio (David Ryer), Simone (Joseph Santos) and their leader,
Francesco (Sean McDonaghy) barely eking out a living until the lovely Isabella (Milly Sanders)--a poet and natural actress--joins them, the first actress of the era!  Soon they attract a fan in the person of Orazio (Victor Manso) who happens to be the nephew of the Duke of Milan (Richard Garnett)! The Duke offers his sponsorship provided they accept his mistress Vittoria (Kristyn Chalker) into the company. Soon they so impress Charles IX (Alex Choate) they end up invited to the French court, to the less than rapturous approval of the King's mother Catherine De Medici (Ann Levin). On the trip, a former maid named Sylvia (Jessee Foudray) saves their lives and also joins the troupe.  In France, Francesco's rage at the powers that be who abandoned him and others in the war motivate him to demand I Gelosi (which means "The Jealous Ones") perform a political satire mocking the Pope. From there, internal debate and emotional as well as artistic agendas begin to tear the group apart.

Sounds like a perfectly workable plot, doesn't it? The stuff of an interesting, dramatic, entertaining work, don't you think?

It proves much more than that.

The script itself for example manages to put us through the emotions of every single member of the troupe, so we totally sympathize and feel total judgment on each one. No small feat, especially since in some ways we dislike more than one of them. More, it isn't simply a matter of what they individually want. What they desire, expressed from the very start, runs virtually the range of human desire. Love. Food. Fame. Revenge. Yet not as written--nor, crucially, as performed--do they once become caricatures or archetypes instead of people. The kind of consistency of this throughout lets me know just how good a director Marjo-Riikka Makela must be, not least because of her casting choices!

Also all the details about this show form one cohesive--and let me note as well, beautiful--world for the performance. Costumes by Amanda Maciel Atunes did wonders in suggesting the opulent styles of the period, while the music and sound design by Ellen Burr sucked us into the feel of the Renaissance when kings and dukes and popes wielded enormous power amid an odd glamor as we look back upon it today. Alex Choate doubled in creating an amazing scenic and lighting design that left me with a distinct feeling theater directors all know too well--space envy.

This marks one of the half-dozen best productions I have seen in Los Angeles as well as among the top dozen theatrical productions I have ever enjoyed. Missing this production would count as genuine lost opportunity, to be regretted for years and years.

Note: The cast of this production varies night to night, as a true ensemble. I for one am tempted to go see it several more times for that very reason!

I Gelosi plays Saturdays and Sundays, 2pm and 8pm, until May 31, 2015 at Studioo Six01, 630 Flower Street Burbank CA 91502. For tickets call (800) 838-3006 or go here.

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