The Amorous Servant: A new contemporary vision of masked theatre comes to light!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

The Amorous Servant. Photo: Barb Gray

The Amorous  Servant by Carlo Goldoni , directed by Attila Clemann, translated by John Van Burek. A production of the Odyssey Theatre.

The Odyssey Theatre is back in the park again this summer, braving the rain and the bad weather . Luckily it was beautiful the night we saw it, the mosquitoes were gone, the new cushions were comfortable and all was perfect.

A simple but functional  set designed by John D oucet set the space for the  dashing about the house that keeps the eight actors moving  in this 18th Century comedy by  Carlo Goldoni , rarely performed, created in French in 1993 at the Comédie française and only recently translated into English by John Van Burek, better known in Canada for his translations of Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay!

The English text has been slightly tweaked by director Attila Clemann but his version is essentially the same as Van Burek’s  which surprised me to no end because the version of the play we see and hear, is the result of a  close encounter between English and Italian and that closeness  gives a whole new flavor to the play, adding much importance to the spoken word  whereas Commedia is essentially interested in the workings of the body and the intrigues of a series of stock characters who  reappear in all the plays

In this versioin directed by Attila Clemann, English has become Italian!  English syntax is twisted into Italian, (in many cases), the breathing is displaced (such fun), the vowels are drawn out ,  the rhythms are long and joyfull,   groups of Italian words slip into the English sentences so that we start believing we can understand Italian!! Really!! It’s amazing!! .  and we don’t even bother translating. The meaning becomes obvious!! That is the work of Van Burek, obviously a fine linguist who picked up the structures of Italian and slid them into the text when it seemed  the right moment.  A great joy to hear.

Many of the Commedia stock types remain and they retain their characteristics, even  some of  their movements which take us back to their origins. Rosaura (Tiffany Claire Martin) , the daughter of Pantalone ,  is the reincarnation of the vivacious and flirtatious Colombine  whose gestures are much more contemporary but whose feisty spirit remains . Chris Ralph in the red mask  is the old Pantalone who mistrusts Ottavio’s scheming new love Beatrice. There are the male servants, the female servants. There is Florindo the son of Ottavio (Christopher Allen) who brings his own rhythms to the piece,  Arlecchino  (Joshua Browne) quotes perfectly from the original type  and tries to  remain faithful while Lelio the son of Breatrice, played by Abraham Asto who is also Brighella the other servant,  takes us back to the commedia figures of popular theatre with their more vulgar displays of physicality and accents that remind us of the  contemporary Parisian banlieue.  So strange. Suddenly we are in Paris!  The plays  all appear to develop on the lines of an improvised dialogue, a canevas, integrating all the types who appear in most of  Goldoni”s plays. However, the acting styles are extremely different and the play has lost its stylistic continuity which just goes to show that the company is evolving and redefining the rules of the old form.   Warburton, the old fellow(Ottavio),  manipulated by the nasty Beatrice is much calmer and thoughtful,  someone who lives in his own world. An excellent performance but he introduces a new style which has little to do with that of the other characters.

The director builds bridges between the traditional Commedia,  a text that has rethought the physical theatre into an 18th Century Canevas of stock characters that not only renews  Moliere’s vision of  popular theatre but  introduces a modern text that orients the whole event. Thus he also builds on a form of Human comedy based on Lecoq”s corporeal performances inspired by the script and by the necessity of  a 21st century theatrical sensibility where certain ideological concerns emerge, such as the way that women declare their importance in contemporary society.  Corallina performed with great presence by Lise Cormier, was excellent .  Her   final statement about women being independent  in a play of that period appeared so contemporary  that I was convinced Clemann had added it himself. However that was not true, Goldoni did put that into his text.  Goldoni  was therefore  a true visionary, even moreso than Molière although  he was  influenced  by Molière whom he loved, admired, studied and even envied  during his many years in Paris.

.  We can now clearly see how Laurie Steven’s company is evolving into something that is redefining the old Commedia rules of  Italian street performance,   borrowing from many influences such as Lecoq’s Human Comedy , all manner of  sophistication that defined the later  aesthetics of Italian and French writers of the 17th and 18th Centuries (Molière, Goldoni, Beaumarchais, Marivaux) .

All we can say now is, where is Odyssey going?   Is it useful to  keep experimenting with forms  that no longer exist?  The original form is gone!!  I admit I rather miss it but like anything,  one msses what one knows.   Odyssey Theatre has decided not to prolong the agony of a stage practice that needs a great amount of training and preparation in order to exist.  That is over! What we have then are the contemporary instincts of good actors, directed by sensitive directors who try to bring a contemporary feel to masked performance, something that is henceforth a great  aesthetic salad, made up of everything that has accumulated over the last 2 centuries.Thus, it should  no longer  be confused with its Italian original. After all, this is the  age of technology.  Meyerhold,  silent film,   Debureau and all the history of European mime and corporeal theatre have moved on. Andy Massingham is experimenting with the body, northern inuk theatre has also shown us that which is possible in Canada experimenting with  forms of human breathing and animal sounds.  I think its time to look elsewhere.  Lets see what Odyssey dares to come up with next year!!!

The Amorous Servant by Carlo Goldoni 1772, translated by John Van Burek, adapted and directed by Attila Clemann.  See the Odessey Web site for times in Strathcona Park. It plays July  20 to  August 20 2017.

Director and sound design     Attila Clemann

Set: John Doucet

Masks: Jerrard Smith

Costumes: Vanessa Imeson

Lighting: Ron Ward

CAST

Ottavio:          David Warburton

Pantalone:       Chris Ralph

Beatrice:         Suzanne Roberts Smith

Arlecchino      Joshua Browne

Lelio/Brighella Abraham Asto

Corallina         Lise Cormier

Florindo          Christopher Allen

Rosaura           Tiffany Claire Martin

 


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