Monday, July 27, 2009

Goldoni the modernist (Theater - Trilogia della villegiatura by Goldoni)

I'm so glad each time that the Lincoln Center Festival rolls around because NYC gets a taste of some of the world's best theatre companies. Piccolo Teatro di Milano and Teatri Uniti di Napoli together brought Toni Servillo's adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's Trilogia della villeggiatura this year and the Ragazzo and I took his parents yesterday afternoon. That Goldoni was a contemporary of Mozart and his best librettist da Ponte is evident from the style of this play. Goldoni's work makes reference to Italy's commedia del'Arte tradition, with the traditional characters peeking their heads through, but it is a more sophisticated and socially critical comedy of manners. This production added another layer of modernity, darkening the classical comedic mold considerably. The play spoofs two families trying to impress each other during a weekend in the country while they are dead broke because they have lived on credit (if that is not a contemporary comedy of manners I don't know what is!). As with any classic comedy, it ends with a wedding, but not a happy one, as the bride of one broke family brings a mortgaged farm as a dowry to her equally broke fiance (whom she does not love) so that their union can produce income for her father. It is a reminder in all the political talk about how supposedly holy marriage is supposed to be, that the state got into the marriage business because it is a contract conferring ownership of land, property and, oh yes, a wife. That's what everyone who says they are defending traditional marriage is upholding. In any event, Trilogia's modern veneer steered this production clear of becoming a museum piece as so much classical theatre ends up. The production's thoughtfulness put the character's experiences front and center and gave the play contemporary resonance but without explicitly updating it. It was exemplary in its minimalist production values, a smart choice for a tour. Two simple flats, a couple of ground cloths, a few pieces of wooden furniture, some greenery, and a scrim were the sum total of their stage machinery. That accomplished two houses in town in the first play, the house and garden in the country in the second, and yet another house in the country in the third play. A few pieces of music accompanied the simple and very effective set changes. Most of the production's emphasis was put on the lighting design, which was subtle and effective. The acting varied from a subtly realistic Guglielmo played by Tommaso Ragno, to a hilariously flamboyant Ferdinando played by the production's director (who obviously type cast himself as the self-centered scrounger, given the absurd length and braggadocio of his program bio), and everything in between. Neither the three-hour length nor the fact that we listened to the play in Italian, reading a translation in projected supertitles detracted from my enjoyment of it as theatre. This production reminded me how traditional theatrical forms play out the same characters and similar situations again and again in endless permutations and that artists can find in these forms the stories of their own times and really good artists can convey to us that these are our stories.

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