Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Carnival of Follies

Playwright/Director Dave Burmester describes his play, “A Carnival of Follies” as a “Where’s Waldo” of quotes, characters, situations, staging, and in-jokes from the past 28 years of Acme Theater, the perfect way to end Acme founder Burmester’s 28 years as the company’s director.

Indeed, while this zany pastiche has enough giggles on its own merits, those who have been following Acme, American films, television and a host of other media, will enjoy it that much more. It has a little bit of everything, from Jack Benny to Fricandeau and lots and lots in between.

“It’s probably the least literary show I’ve ever done. I’m not William Shakespeare. I’m not Arthur Miller or Thornton Wilder. As much as I love them, I can’t be them. I am who I am,” said Burmester. Fortunately, what he is is a very funny guy. Oh the show was slow in spots and it wasn’t always easy to tell who was who because the dialog went by so quickly, and for that reason it was difficult to figure out the plot, at first, but nobody sitting on the grass at the Art Center amphitheater was complaining...and everybody was laughing.

They laughed at the slapstick humor, the corny jokes, and the lively dances to Raymond Scott music. They laughed at familiar situations in unfamiliar settings. They laughed at the Zanni (Geoffrey Albrecht, Vivian Breckenridge, Kane Chai, Torin Lusebrink, Hannah May, Matt Northup, Genevieve Whitman, and Danielle Wogulis), who kept the audience entertained between scenes, moved set pieces, and played background sound effects.

In writing his play, Burmester collected all of his favorite bits of theater, types of characters, types of situations, etc., and wove a story line around them. Though the play is set on “two incredibly long days in 1733,” it still has a modern feel to it.

It begins with Smeraldina (the ebullient Hope Raymond, always to be counted on) supposedly reading a fairy tale, but in reality setting up the action that follows, a story which includes twins separated at birth family feuds, and the beautiful Isabella (Delany Pelz) the object of every young man’s affections (and a couple of old ones too!).

(One of my favorite bits was the “birth” of the children in the play.)

Most of the action whirls around Truffaldino (Sean Olivares), the servant of Signore Pantalone (Alex Kravitz). Truffaldino’s inability to read sets off the action which is central to the story, the delivery of a love letter which, of course, gets into the wrong set of hands more than once, each time changing the flow of things. Olivares is very funny and great at slapstick humor.

Pantalone is neighbor to Signora Scarpazone (Kate McFarland), mother to the beautiful Isabella and her sister Flaminia (Emily Tracy). The miserly Pantalone and Signora Scarpazone have been feuding ever since their romance dissolved because of Pantalone’s love of money.

Pantalone’s two sons, Silvio (Zach Salk) and Rosario (Billy Baria) vie for the love of Isabella (though Rosario is secretly in love with Flaminia instead).

And then there is parallel plot of the young Duchess Aurelia (Celsiana Warwick), about to come of age and be free of her guardian, Spavento (Ethan Jaffe, who does great evil characters), who has his own plans to get rid of the Duchess and take control of the government himself, a government from which he has been siphoning gold into his own coffers.

Aurelia is secretly in love with “Il Bandito Negro,” the Robin Hood-like character who takes from the rich and assists the poor. Nobody knows his identity, but the dashing Ortensio (John Ramos) seems to know an awful lot about him.

Into this mix throw twins separated at birth, identified only by “a peculiar birthmark situated in a ‘delicate’ anatomical location”(and an interesting G-rated way of examining them), female characters disguised as men, a lot of great swordplay, outright gratuitous slapstick bits, chase scenes, fight scenes, and a happy ending for all the good guys, with all the plot threads neatly tied together.

Costumer Hope Raymond brings lots of primary colors to the stage, John Ramos has designed a wonderfully versatile set on a thrust built out onto the grass, decorated by Genevieve Whitman. Emily Tracy choreographed the dances, which are so much fun. Fight choreography is by Acme alum, Dara Yazdani, with Delany Pelz as fight captain.

As Dave Burmester rides off into the sunset, he can hold his head high, having created a delicious evening of fun and frivolity.

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