On 20th May 2009, I saw Theatre 101’s performance of their self written play “Star Crossed Lovers from Verona”. It is a comedy based on the works of William Shakespeare written in the style of an Elizabethan Drama and Commedia Dell’Arte and is about three different stories of love and betrayal taken from “Romeo & Juliet”, “Much Ado about Nothing” and “The Taming of the Shrew”. The story focused around two lovers who wished to be married with the disapproval of two elders who are trying to prevent them; this is a typical Comedia Dell’Arte plot.
The play made me consider these issues of love and betrayal and question how funny love can really be. The director showed this through a lot of comedic movement. There were also issues concerning old age and how when two people are in love, nothing can separate them no matter what their age. It made me question why the elders were trying to stop the innmorati from getting married and how that in today’s society this still happens. This was the basic stage layout. The play was performed in an amphitheatre style area.
The actors made exits from both sides and sometimes moved all the way round the back of the stage to re-enter. They did so in an over the top way, making the audience aware that they were back on stage. The carpet was where the majority of scenes took place and was used for the sleepers to lie on, representing the woods. A wooden ladder, which was occasionally moved around, represented a cherry tree that Arcchelino narrated from.
The circular stage behind them was raised higher which suggested that the scene took place in a richer place. Fancy chairs, a table covered in silky purple cloth and wine bottles were used to emphasize this wealth. As a whole, the set was very simple which is what a typical Comedia Dell’Arte performance would be like; the characters’ and their costumes would mostly tell the story. It was also a travelling theatre so this was an appropriate staging. Comedia Dell’Arte is all about Stock Characters and exaggerated gestures. The director showed this through how the characters behaved, their use of voice and body language.
An example of this is when Flavio used large hand gestures to express his love for Isabella and kneeled before his mother to suggest respect for her. As well as being very expressive with his arms and hands, Flavio and his lover often pulled overly dramatic poses to show to the audience their youth and passion for one another. They rarely made contact with each other and instead used over the top “air kissing”. The impression I got was that these two characters were almost flirting with the audience, constantly in dramatic positions which showed that they were as much as in love with themselves as they were with each other.
Arcchelino, the narrator, often stood above the characters and climbed on a ladder so that he was looking over the scene, commenting on behaviour and separated from it. When he moved, the mask always pointed first, with the body following which gave the impression they were spying. There was a contrast in how the Spanish Captain moved and spoke in the first and last scenes. He began trying to make himself seen all the time, walking in large strides and taking up a lot of space on the stage. These movements suggested he was a show off and made himself appear strong which is far from his true character. His voice was also quite loud and overpowering in order to get the most attention. When revealed as the villain, he tries to escape and is kicked to the ground which shows to the audience he is in fact a coward and inferior to everyone else. The (unimpressive) Spanish accent had disappeared as the director wanted to show he was also a total fraud.
The masks are a large part of Comedia Dell’Arte; they represent the characters and show their emotions through how they are made. Dottore wore a mask with an extremely long nose which shows stupidity and the nose was at the centre of his movements which were much exaggerated with little control. The lovers, Isabella and Flavio, wore white masks with rosy cheeks which showed their innocence and purity.
The older characters had darker masks which were more shrivelled up. Arcchelino had a pointed nose to suggest a more devious personality. When Pantalone was being foolish, his mask changed to something clown-like; white with a large red nose which gave the impression he was being ridiculous in his actions. I found by watching that in Comedia Dell’Arte – the longer the nose, the stupider the character! I also noticed that because each actor wore a mask, they were not able to use facial expressions so exaggerated the movement of their bodies and head to show emotion. An example of this was when Isabella was annoyed with Flavio; she jilted her head away from him and stamped her feet.
The costumes were very Elizabethan and were used to show a character’s status. Dottore was dressed in simple baggy clothing to suggest that he is poor. The Spanish Captain wore a military style costume – big and bold to stand out from everyone else and look stronger than he actually is. In a traditional Commedia Dell’Arte production, the lovers would wear the latest fashion and “Star Crossed Lovers…” was no exception; they both wore expensive clothes that showed off their wealth to the audience.
The costumes were also similar colours to show their affinity; light blue clothes which suggested youthfulness and freedom which changed later on to red – a symbol for passion. A change in costume also revealed that Isabella was showing off. The widow wore a veil to show she was in mourning and grand clothes to suggest she had higher status, plus the fact that she was allowed to sit down also showed she was above the rest. The props were quite minimalistic but still played an important part in the production. Isabella was nearly always fiddling with a handkerchief which showed the audience that she was young and girlish. She also had a letter which she ripped up and threw into the audience which broke down the fourth wall because she was involving them in her annoyance.
The Spanish Captain carried shopping bags at one point that revealed to the audience he was vein and his preoccupation with money and appearance. He also had a small dagger that he never used; the size of this weapon indicated that he had little power and was harmless despite his heroic title. Pantalone’s physicality changed along with his voice when he was mocking and pretending to be an old lady; it was high pitched and quieter compared to when he was the arrogant rich man. Isabella had an annoyingly high pitched voice that was very girly and when she was cross, her voice was more piercing and precise which showed she had mood swings and always wanted to get her own way.
Although the play was slightly hard to understand, the audience could relate to the issues addressed in it; Shakespeare was very good at getting these messages across and Commedia Dell’Arte is an excellent style of theatre for comedy and improvisation. I found that the play, at times, lost concentration from the audience. It was quite a young audience and it might have suited the age range if the play was more updated. On the other hand, that would have ruined the traditional style of theatre it was being performed in. The atmosphere was great on the night; a moment that stuck in my mind was when the two elders snuggled up in the woods and made love; it was a simple, innocent piece of humour and the noises coming from a cast member in the audience (a Brechtian style technique) were quite random!