Shotgun Players at Ashby Stage in Berkeley has a rip-roaring hit with “Truffaldino Says No” and audiences are loving every minute of it. I saw this production on Sunday at 5 PM, usually a less-attended time slot, and the place was packed.
The comedy, written by Ken Slattery and directed by M. Graham Smith, is performed both in the Italian “commedia dell’arte” set in Venice and American “campy” styles set in Venice Beach, CA. If you want plot, action, characters to cheer, outrageous laughs, and a complimentary glass of wine, get to this delightful Shotgun Players production before it ends on July 29.
The company is amazing – so well cast as to merit a question if they are actors or simply the quirky characters they portray. Stephen Buescher (as Arlecchino, the zanni clown servant and father) stole every one of his scenes with his spot-on timing, liquid moves, and exaggerated body gestures. Does this guy have a bone in his body? His son Truffaldino, played by William Thomas Hodgson, is the anchor around which the other zany characters bob and weave. We meet the voluptuous Columbina, Gwen Loeb, whose megawatt smile and sultry demeanor remind us of a beautiful version of Mamma Cass. Andy Alabran cracks up audiences with his thrusting and bravado as Il Capitano, and lends hilarity again as the camouflaged security guard pounding on suspected illegals in Venice Beach. No goofball romance would be complete without a vacuous young lady, this time played by Ally Johnson, and the clueless young suitor, perfected by Michael Phillis. Bring on the parents, Joe Lucas and Brian Herndon, and you have a madcap mix of motives and mayhem that keeps the audience in stitches.
I don’t usually get into commedia dell’arte, a typically silly and slapstick genre of performance for the masses, but I changed my tune when I experienced “Truffaldino Says No”. Shotgun Players nailed this duo time-and-place production.
A special shout out goes to the fantastically clever masks designed by Emilia Sumelius-Buescher and the colorful costumes designed by Maggie Whittaker.
For Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday performances at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, go to www.shotgunplayers.org or call (510) 841-6500.