YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Out & About / Ventura County | theater notes

Reviving Commedia Dell'Arte

Players breathe life into a confusing old Italian farce.


Shakespeare wasn't the only playwright before Neil Simon, though community theaters seldom reach outside the Bard's oeuvre when it comes to early drama.

That's why we have college theater departments, which (among other things) don't have to depend on audiences who aren't interested in classic theater. As a quick example, take a look at Moorpark College's "The Servant of Two Masters," concluding this weekend, and the Cal Lutheran University presentation of Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Sophocles' "Antigone," which opens this weekend (and will be reviewed here next week).

First performed around the middle of the 18th century, "The Servant of Two Masters" is an Italian farce, attributed to Carlo Goldini, that bears some resemblance to Shakespearean comedy of nearly a century earlier--including cross-dressing and mixed identities. (In truth, many of Shakespeare's devices were ancient by the time he was using them.)

When the businessman Pantalone (Frank Payfer) learns that his daughter Clarice's fiance-by-arrangement, Raspone, has been killed in a duel, he allows Clarice (Jee Hong) to marry her true love, Silvio (Aaron Keit), son of Dr. Lombardi (Jeremy Di Paolo).

Before the wedding can take place, though, Raspone shows up, accompanied by his servant, Truffaldino (Todd Schoonover).

Unbeknownst to everybody except the audience, "Raspone" is in reality the murdered fiance's sister, Beatrice (Aubrey Drew), in disguise and searching for her long-lost lover, Florindo.

Florindo (Dillon Johnston) shows up--you knew he would, didn't you?--and Truffaldino, who doesn't know what's going on but who has a lot of free time, becomes Florindo's servant.

This is more plot than I normally divulge, but there's a lot going on, and it might get a bit confusing.

True to the commedia dell'arte tradition from which it springs, "Servant" features considerable physical comedy, particularly from Schoonover, and Paul Caraganilla and Brandon Siegel, who play two porters at a hotel run by Brighella (Heather Broderick). Some of the action seems pretty strenuous, and a sword fight is one of the show's highlights.

Jee Hong takes acting honors, though "acting" isn't the show's main focus--action is. And all the players acquit themselves nicely under Katherine Lewis' direction.

The impressive set design is by Paulette Cox, and be sure to cast an eye, occasionally, on the statues played by Will Welser and Kitty Sukopcak.


"The Servant of Two Masters" concludes this weekend at Moorpark College's Performing Arts Center on Collins Drive off the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Performances are today at 1:30 and 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Tickets to this afternoon's matinee are $7, general admission to evening performances is $12; $8, seniors and students; $7, children, Moorpark College students and staff with ID. For information, call 378-1485.



Initiating the fourth season of Theater 150's celebrated Solo Series is Tony Abatemarco's "Cologne--or the Ways Evil Enters the World." Abatemarco tells the evidently autobiographical tale of Tony, a young man growing up in mid-'60s Long Island with his friends Billy (four years younger) and Billy's brother, Bobby (four years older). Sexually confused at first, Tony comes to terms with his gayness, soon discovering that he's not alone in his social circle.

Things happen, set to various Beatles songs and David Bowie's anachronistic "Wild is the Wind" (licensing the songs must have cost Abatemarco plenty). Toward the end, the play jumps 15 years to the gay-police confrontation in Greenwich Village known as Stonewall, named after a local gay bar, and generally regarded as a significant point in the gay liberation movement.

Occasionally graphic, though not nearly as much so as it might have been, "Cologne" is unsparing--as one would hope--in its portrayal of young Tony, who is at times guilty of behavior that's uncivil by almost any standard: He's hustling early on, and later sets up a friend for a beating by gay-bashers.

Abatemarco's a veteran writer, director and actor, with numerous stage, television and film credits, though he trusted the direction of "Cologne" to his longtime friend and collaborator, David Schweizer.

The performance runs a taut 90 minutes--sometimes shattering, occasionally quite amusing and always engaging.


"Cologne--or the Ways Evil Enters the World" concludes this weekend at Theater 150, 918 E. Ojai Avenue in Ojai. Performances are Friday-Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, with a two-for-one special Sunday. For reservations, further information or season brochures, call 646-4200.


Todd Everett can be reached at

Los Angeles Times Articles