By Omen Sade
Directed by Julie Ritchey
Produced by Filament Theatre Ensemble
At The Den Theatre
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.
Commedia dell’arte is a seldom-performed art form these days – not that you’d know it if you were keeping up with the Chicago scene, since the successful run of Servant of Two Masters has been followed-up by cast member Omen Sade’s one-man, one-musician show Arlecchino’s Odyssey. Commedia, these days, is an easily overlooked form, in a way primitive and medieval; but we owe it much: Shakespeare owes it much. It was the characters from Commedia dell’arte that he developed into many of his own. Comedy of Errors is every Plautus play ever, combined, then beamed through the prism of Commedia, and corporealized on the English stage.
And just because an art form is old doesn’t mean that its modern representations must feel archaic. Omen Sade understands this in his very marrow. Arlecchino’s Odyssey may use the stock character of Arlecchino, a harlequin, but it tells a modern story of a modern journey, and includes references to great philosophical figures of the 20th century, such as Sartre, Freud, and Kanye West. There is also more than a little Chaplin in his character. And true to the form, the audience plays a role in the piece: just as Shakespeare’s actors did in the Globe, Sade plays with his audience, and the audience, in its own way, shapes the show. Sometimes in a big way: last night was a little blue, but Sade and fellow Filament member Mary Spearen have also developed a child-safe version, which they can readily perform for younger audiences.
The journey of the play begins within a question: Arlecchino enters the stage, and asks if he can tell a story. He then recounts, with the physicality of a Warner Brothers cartoon character and the help of musician/foley artist Spearen, his life in the city, his travels to London, Rome, and Amsterdam, and the lessons he learns along the way. It is sweet, humorous, fanciful, physical, and very fun. Sade is impressive. He’s sweating by the end of the show, and with good reason. And although this is undeniably a modern show, he pays very close attention to, is indeed very strict in his interpretation of, the harlequin character he portrays. He is acrobatic to the point of obfuscating his movements (he can never simply put his hat on: he has to flip it from his foot onto his head); he never has enough to eat or drink; and he indulges in carnal pleasures when the opportunity arises.
This show is a nonpareil example of how to mount a modern version of this classic art form. Sade and Spearen do it right – period. If you want to see how Commedia dell’arte can be translated to a modern audience, how vibrant the art from still is, five hundred years after its inception, this is the piece to see.
Reviewed on 4.14.11
For booking information, please visit www.filamenttheatre.org
At The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd Floor, Chicago; tickets $5 at the door; performances April 16th at 2, 4, 6, and 8pm.