HARLEQUIN Servant of Two Masters

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

01/10/2009 - 04/10/2009

Production Details

THE EDGE® International Arts Season presents

HARLEQUIN Servant of Two Masters
"Before Homer Simpson, there was commedia dell’arte." THE NEW YORK TIMES

This is New Zealand’s first opportunity to experience the work of Italy’s revered Piccolo Teatro di Milano. Established in 1947, they have travelled the globe keeping alive the renaissance art form, commedia dell’arte. In Italy the company is a symbol of a theatre tradition that is both very Italian and part of the world’s theatrical heritage.

"A miraculous fusion of brilliant directorial insight, inspired physical comedy and a peerless sense of style." LOS ANGELES TIMES

Piccolo Teatro di Milano will perform HARLEQUIN Servant of Two Masters, written in 1745 by the legendary Carlo Goldoni. The role of Harlequin is played by the great Italian actor Ferruccio Soleri who has performed the role with a playful agility for the past 45 years. The plot is simple and hilarious: Harlequin is a wily trickster with a never-ending desire to fill both his pockets and his stomach and hence he becomes the servant of two masters.

What follows is a series of madcap scenes including three weddings, two duels, a dance number, a chase sequence, a love scene, a food fight, and much more. Throughout all the mix-ups, mayhem and slapstick humour, Harlequin discovers he himself is really hungry for love and, like all good stories everyone in the end lives happily ever after.

Commedia dell’arte characters were known as zannis (the forebears of modern-day clowns). Harlequin is one of the best known of these characters – comedic, mischievous and recognisable by his colourful diamond-shaped patchwork costume. The play is performed in the original Italian language and yet the stories are easily communicated to all audiences through the company’s skilful use of body language and acrobatics. As the centuries have unfolded, the commedia dell’arte style has evolved as the inspiration behind the great comic characters from Shakespeare’s Puck to Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers, through to John Cleese and Homer Simpson.

"A marvel of cleanly choreographed farce. Mining the humour from human folly has never gone out of style." THE NEW YORK TIMES

Arlecchino Servant of Two Maters Tour is supported by Italian Minsitry of Culture, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, City of Milan – Expo 2015, Milan Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday 1 to Friday 2 October  7.00pm
Saturday 3 October  1.00pm & 7.00pm
Sunday 4 October  3.00pm

Premium Elite $125.00* Opening night only
Premium: $99.00*
A Reserve: $89.00*
B Reserve: $65.00*
*Service fees will apply

09 357 3355 or 0800 BUYTICKETS (0800 289 842)
*Service fee will apply

RESTAGED BY  Ferruccio Soleri in collaboration with Stefano de Luca
SET DESIGNER:  Ezio Frigerio
COSTUME DESIGNER:  Franca Squarciapino
MUSIC BY:  Fiorenzo Carpi

Artistry abounds in Italian company’s comedy

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 05th Oct 2009

Commedia dell’arte from the finest exponents of the art form

Picollo Teatro Di Milano offers a rare opportunity to experience the enchanting world of commedia dell’arte delivered by a company that includes several of the world’s finest living exponents of this influential tradition.

In New Zealand, commedia dell’arte has been an inspiration for many of our most significant theatre groups – perhaps most notably in the underground cabaret of Red Mole, in which a bizarre menagerie of masked characters arose out of Alan Brunton’s profound engagement with the satirical roots of this ancient art form. [More]
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Hilarious, historic, extraordinary …

Review by Nik Smythe 02nd Oct 2009

Centre stage of the Aotea Centre’s ASB Theatre stands a tall curtain rail, with a smaller raised stage in front upon which the story is acted out.  Around the stage are chairs and stools and one or two instruments, and down stage a row of candle footlights.  The ancient prompter (Stefano Guizzi) painstakingly lights them one by one whilst greeting us with a friendly ‘kia-ora’, thereby initiating the many laughs to follow.

Having had only a little education in Commedia dell’Arte, I am privileged now to have seen my first full scale, 3-act, two-interval production of this 1745 masterpiece of Carlo Goldoni. This great Italian literary figure reshaped the artform in the 18th century, to produce more complex, narrative-driven stories than the earlier, simple character-oriented tales which began in the 1500s. 

Some more interesting numbers:  The history of the Piccolo Teatro Di Milano (Little Theatre of Milan) dates back to the postwar 40s, and this very production has been in the company repertoire over 60 years, since 1947.  Heroic lead Ferrucio Soleri, who turns 80 this year, has played the title character ‘Arlecchino’ [a.k.a. Harlequin] well over 2000 times for more than fifty years. 

Soleri’s level of physical energy and coordination puts most folk half his age to shame.  If anything, he appears to be setting the pace for the wholly younger supporting cast to keep up with.  There’s little or no evidence of the actor’s age when he’s in the mask, and when it’s removed at the curtain call (an event in itself!), the rapturous applause is accompanied with gasps of awe and respect.

Including Arlecchino, only four of the five servant characters based on the original improvisational characters are in mask: Brighella (Enrico Bonavera) the scheming innkeeper – who seems the most complex, with equal measures of selfishness and altruism – and the fathers of the main young lovers, Pantalone the greedy rich merchant (Giorgio Bongiovanni) and the pompous academic Dottor Lombardi (Tommaso Minniti).  Bongiovanni received special accolades on opening night as it marked his 1000th turn in the role.

Said lovers Clarice and Silvio are played in comical style by Annamarie Rossano and Stefano Onofri, eschewing the typical blandness of romantic leads in other traditional formats. Perhaps the closest to a straight character in an ensemble where there really aren’t any is Clarice’s servant Smeraldina, the confident voice of reason and ultimately the love interest for Arlecchino. 

Two more lovers, Beatrice (Giorgia Senesi) and Florindo (Sergio Leone [sic]) represent the two masters in the title, both unaware that they have the same servant and that they are in fact each other’s true love for whom they are searching.  Their predicament is further complicated by the fact that Beatrice is disguised as her dead brother Federigo, valiantly murdered by Florindo for disapproving of his union with Beatrice, as per the honourable morality of a different time and place to our own.

The excellent band revels throughout the three-hour extravaganza with the playfully boisterous music of composer Fiorenzo Carpi, and receives the second largest applause after Ferruccio Soleri.

The most obvious drawback for many locals such as myself is having precious little comprehension of the language.  Large English overhead titles are generously provided above the proscenium arch, but given the rapid fire verbosity of all the players it is clear the written lines are heavily abbreviated; at times not even supplied.  Yet for all the extra wit I wasn’t privy to, the show is nevertheless thoroughly entertaining. 

The entire troupe is masterfully skilled in what is on the face of it a fairly simplistic, slapstick theatre form – undoubtedly a classic case of ‘making it look easy’.  One needs to take a step back to notice just how intricate and complex the layers are, what with the slapstick acrobatics, bawdy gags, occasional English phrases, jocular songs, mistaken identities, double takes and in-jokes et cetera. 

It all flows remarkably together, along with all the intriguing onstage-backstage shenanigans between the wings and the set platform, so it’s often hard to know where’s the best place to look on stage, let alone the titles.  

There is an overwhelming sense as the audience exits that we’ve experienced something richly historic and extraordinary.  It was good to note a wide cross-section of age groups in the crowd, all smiles proving that these timeless themes and recognisably human caricatures will speak to any generation in virtually any culture.  
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