Even a casual theatregoer knows that there are certain types and tropes played to in classical theatre—like how in one-fifth of Shakespeare’s 38 surviving plays cross-dressing serves as a central plot device.
Commedia dell’arte is a theatrical form that emerged from northern Italy in the 15th Century; it features characters whose faces are mostly obscured by elaborate masks, so emphasis is instead placed on magnified dialect and movement, lending to an obvious comedic effect. Love, lust, sorrow, jealousy and fear are all expressed passionately and physically.
Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company’s “Commedia Cannon!” is all about using the stock characters and distinctive masks of commedia dell’arte to reinvigorate these usual tangled plots of Elizabethan drama, resulting in a madcap romp through the world of theatre.
In Savage Rose’s production, their 12-person ensemble cast performs as an array of characters in a medley of 16 scenes, sonnets and ballads, ranging from Shakespeare to Moliere—all reimagined in the commedia style.
Director Elizabeth Leigh Crites, a graduate of Northern California’s Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, does an excellent job of infusing well-known (and often parodied) selections of the classical canon, including quite serious pieces like Hamlet’s soliloquy, with the bawdiness, irreverence and exaggerated emotion of commedia dell’arte.
The fast-paced variety show structure seems slightly disjointed at times. However, the unexpected pairing of content and delivery works well—ultimately creating a unique, accessible lens through which to view the familiar classics, while simultaneously showcasing an influential theatrical tradition that is often forgotten in the mainstream.
“Commedia Cannon!” plays at The Alley Theater to Dec. 14.