Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More "Arlecchino, Servant of Two Masters"

[post 171]

As is often the case, since writing my post on Carlo Goldoni last week — read that post first! — I have stumbled upon a bunch of new stuff that I would have included had I been as wise and knowledgeable then as I am now. The new (to me) material is on Giorgio's Strehler's famous production of Arlecchino, Servant of Two Masters. My first stumble was via an Adam Gertsacov post about Strehler on his clownlink.com blog, which led me along a virtual path to two NY Times articles and five more videos.

When this legendary production played Lincoln Center (NYC) in 2005 — I didn't see it because I was in Italy! — the Times first did this preview article about the acclaimed Arlecchino, Ferruccio Soleri, hailing him as "the last great Arlecchino."

Here's an excerpt:

The title character does not require intense interior exploration. "Arlecchino isn't Hamlet," Mr. Soleri said. "You can study his psychology in very little time; the rest is doing it well." Wearing a mask — a specially crafted leather visor that looks like a cross between a cat and a monkey — means that emotion must be expressed through voice and gestures. The role requires a great deal of physical exertion. So Mr. Soleri, who turns a trim 75 this year, warms up for an hour before each performance. "At my age you're in trouble if you don't do some stretching," he said. Arlecchino's physical antics are so rambunctious that the actor goes through three heavy felt patchwork costumes during each performance, one per act. "It's the sweat," he admitted, wringing out an invisible costume with his hands... The sense of madcap impulsiveness onstage is actually very much structured, though, and improvised moments are few.

You can read the whole preview article here.

Once the show opened, the Times posted its mostly favorable review.

Again, an excerpt:

The production's stature as an ambassador for Italian culture across the decades would seem to suggest that audiences are in for an evening of great cultural significance. Fat chance. Yes, theater historians can note the ways in which the production hews to tradition, including the use of masks for the comic male characters and the presence of an actual slapstick — two pieces of wood that are struck together for the sound or comic effect. It also uses a by-now familiar meta-theatrical frame: Ezio Frigerio's set, recreating the feel of an old village square, allows us to watch the actors chat and idle when they jump off the cramped wooden platform that supplies the playing space...

But anyone who has seen a Saturday morning television cartoon, an Abbott and Costello movie or a sex farce will recognize the comic techniques here. Commedia dell'arte simply mines humor from human folly by exaggerating behavior and manipulating language, and that recipe has never gone out of style...

As an actor, Mr. Soleri, now 75 — well past the age of advanced acrobatics, you would think — must be an inspiration to his colleagues. His nimble performance as a servant who sows confusion when he takes on two employers is a continual delight. A set piece in which the starved Arlecchino makes a meal of a fly raised peals of joyous disgust from the children in the audience. And the gymnastic scene in which Arlecchino sprints back and forth to serve his masters their dinners simultaneously is a marvel of cleanly choreographed farce and a fine feat of juggling, too....

Audiences who don't understand Italian may get more pleasure by consulting the program's synopsis before each act begins, to focus on the actors as much as possible. Or maybe ignore the supertitles for one of the play's three acts: the second one, with its long stretches of pure physical comedy, would be a natural choice....
Adding some kind of variety to the evening is probably a good idea. At three full hours, with two intermissions, this is a very generous immersion in pure buffoonery, even if it is the kind of buffoonery that inspired the term. Strehler's "Arlecchino" may be hallowed by years of acclaim, but the actual experience of watching it could be compared to sitting through a three-hour director's cut of a Hollywood comedy rated PG-13.

You can read the whole review here.

And now for the five more video clips. They still don't necessarily give us a clear sense of the whole production, and video of stage work is always a bit flat, but it's a start....

This first one, apparently made for television, is from 1954, so we can assume we are watching Marcello Moretti in the role. Spoiler alert: it's in Italian without subtitles and we're not seeing much in the way of physical comedy in this particular segment.

Fast forward to 1994 and a sweetly evocative slideshow / video featuring Ferruccio Soleri.

Also from 1994:

A lecture-demo (in Italian) by Soleri:

And, last but not least, a fast-paced highlight reel (not sure what year) with a glimpse right at the end of the "juggling" sequence mentioned in the Times.

Finally, you can view an excellent slide show of moments from the Strehler production here.


Laviolette said...

I just got my hands on the complete DVD. It's AMAZING.

jt said...


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