Sunday, April 15, 2007

The mean bone in our body

A few weeks ago, Kiran and I got quite a thrill listening to the new cast (featuring Stolen Chair's evil genius* set designer David Bengali, Stage Kiss's Layna Fisher, and SCTC resident actors Cameron Oro and Liza Wade White) read through Commedia dell'Artemisia for the first time. It's fast, it's funny, and it's filled with vitriol, like the sort they used to fling at those medieval-soldier-types as they tried to scale the castle's keep. As cynical as KMLYMI was, we have never since created anything that is as downright mean as Commedia... And I don't mean "mean-spirited" or "negative," I mean "ruthlessly and unapologetically nasty."

But it's funny. And it's really delightful. And it's mean-ingful.

As we've begun to rehearse the piece, it's been a treat allowing ourselves to forget the production's last incarnation and build the new production from the ground up, allowing the new performers to fully own these characters. The only moment that I would have been tempted to keep, I had to reimagine anyway, as Cameron doesn't quite have the circus-chops to do the front flip that Jon Campbell used to do just before the rape scene...oh, and speaking of rape scene: this sweet and innocent li'l comedy of ours actually has the stage direction "He rapes her."

The piece is rather magical insofar as it pretty much stages itself. Once an ensemble can get used to sharing the mask with the audience and figures out how to clearly demarcate each state change (similar to beat changes, except each one is played to 11, as they say in Spinal Tap, and they happen in rapid succession and seemingly without internal motivation), moments seem to flow logically from each other.

While we certainly had comic bits and business in the Stampede Fest version of the piece in early 2005, Jon Campbell and I (who had trained in classical improvised commedia) were disappointed that we didn't let any extended lazzi develop. While in lots of places, these lazzi would conflict with the timing of Kiran's couplets, I'm really eager to find at least 3 or 4 places where we can just run free of the text for a few minutes. That said, I know that can't happen until we have total security in the skeleton of the piece, something we were never able to achieve in the compressed developmental process for version 1.0.

Kiran's actually setting out to tinker with the script a bit for version 2.0, but it's certainly not going to be anything close to the overhaul that happened between Stages Kiss 2003 and Stage Kiss 2006 (which, as those who caught both know: had NOTHING in common!). She's probably just going to punch up some of the less punchy lines and maybe add a little bit more interaction between Tuzia (Artemisia's neighbor/surrogate mother) and Orazio (Artemisia's dad) and/or Tuzia and Tassi (Artemisia's tutor/rapist). We're tossing around the idea of reworking the ending so that the double-casting (the actress who plays Artemisia also plays the judge) can be a product of the plotting itself, but we still need to let that idea incubate a bit more before it hatches...

Can't wait until next rehearsal on's ladies night: just Liza and Layna. :)

*David is not, in fact, evil. But he is, in fact, a genius. I'm not kidding. And even if he wasn't a genius (which he is), he looks enough like a genius to pass as one.

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