Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"La Strada" Comes to the Stage

[post 208]

Federico Fellini's 1954 Academy-Award-winning, neo-realist film, La Strada, starring Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife), is one of my all-time favorites. The brutal depiction of a marginal showman's life, the stunning black & white cinematography, and the compelling acting of Quinn, Masina, and of Richard Basehart in the role of "the fool" all hold up very well indeed nearly a half century later. The clown's power to satirize  —and the limits of that power — struck a strong chord with me then that still rings true today. And according to our good friend Wikipedia, the movie was a source of inspiration for Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee."

Although the beautifully photographed roads and small towns of rural Italy play a key role in Fellini's story, this remains essentially a three-person drama, and thus suitable for stage adaptation. An attempt at a Broadway musical flopped way back in 1969, but a current NYC Spanish-language production directed by René Buch and Jorge Merced received good reviews and won some awards earlier this year, and is now back for another run through December 4th at the TBG Theatre.

Gerard Vazquez's stage adaptation is more of a clown show than a road show, setting the main plot as a story within a story, a tale concocted by three clowns who could be right out of Waiting for Godot. Once the main plot gets going, one of those clowns morphs into "the fool," the wirewalker and clown who cannot resist taunting the neanderthal strongman Zampano.

The dramaturgy gets a bit creaky at times, and I'm not sure it works as well as intended, but then it's hard to match the tragic dimensions of Fellini's epic. The clowning dominates the action well into the second act, and shows itself up to the task. With additional direction by clown consultant Audrey Crabtree, the trio of Winston Estevez, Maria Peyramaure, and Israel Ruiz prove themselves very adept at keeping the ball rolling as they play off one another as if they'd been on the road together for a very long time. Ruiz is also the wirewalker/fool and his animated (and award-winning) performance is worth the price of admission. Although not a clown by training, he's a gifted comic actor who uses all of his body all the time and keeps the show at a high energy.

Here are a couple of trailers. Sorry, no subtitles on the clips; the show is performed in Spanish but there are English supertitles projected onto a stage-right screen, which makes it easy enough to follow.

For more information and to order tickets, check out the company's web site here.

No comments: