Shotgun Players and Playground Production of “Truffaldino Says No” currently playing at the Ashby Stage skyrockets into a tale of a young man’s voyage with terrific swiftness and wonderful proposes. M.Graham Smith has combined aspects of Commedia dell’Arte and a 60’s beach film reminiscent of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in the 1965 film of “Beach Blanket Bingo”. Playwright’s Ken Slattery’s comedy originated as a 10 minute short written as part of the assigned topic of “Arlecchino” Playground writers ‘pool. Shotgun Player commissioned the playwright for a full-length version.
The first 10 minutes is pure Commedia dell’Arte when in we see a typical comedy with Arlecchino ( Stephen Buescher) (“arlecchino” in an Italian word for harlequin the most popular comic servant character from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte) his son Truffaldino (William Thomas Hodgson) and Colombina (Gwen Loeb). There is the typical clowning around but Truffaldino says “Scopare la mia vita (Fuck my life) several times since he is condemned to spend his entire live in Venice, serving as a court harlequin and his infatuation with the routine dismissive young debutante, Isabella (Ally Johnson). This clown wants to get the hell out of Venice and experience the world beyond.
Truffaldino arrives in the America and he gets a position as an innkeeper at (wait for it) Venice Beach, California. Suddenly the stage is filled with these Commedia dell’Arte characters now acting in a brightly colored American International beach film that would star Funicello and Avalon. Of course the money-grubbing Pantalone (Brian Herndon) the unstoppable fountain of information of Il Dottore of the old world now appears as pink-suited Frank who has a distrustful attitude toward everything that is going on at Venice Beach. Poet, playwright and somewhat effeminate Flavio (Michael Phillis) who declares love for Il Capitano (Andy Alabran) in old Venice suddenly becomes a real hep Frankie Avalon’s style life guard Mike in somewhat in love with Kate (Gwen Loeb) who was Colombina in the old world. (He actually is more in love with himself and the pool). All this sound confusing well director M. Graham Smith successfully mashes the employments into a tornado spin with actors going to the edge of the stage before doing a 180 to re-enter their old world/new world opposites thanks to an outstanding cast of actors in this fast pace two hour 25 minute farce.
The acting is magnificently broad. First rate physical comic Stephen Buescher (he is head of Physical Theatre at ACT) in the role of the archetypical zany Arlecchino is sidesplitting in the role. Even when he tries to think of some way to kill himself while idly playing with a rope is a comedic tour-de-force. William Thomas Hodgson does a wonderful job of emulating Buescher’s acrobatic dance routines in the earlier scenes. Gorgeous Ally Johnson as Isabella and Debbie (the Funicello in the Beach film) is entertaining playing a fibbertigibbete with outstanding dramatic poses and an outrageous Italian accent as Isabella. Malleable Michael Phillis demonstrates charming contracts in technique but Phillis as the surfer life guard is a scene stealer. Gwen Loeb is delightfully sensual uses great timing in her roles of Colombina and Kate. Andy Alabran as the Il Capitano in act one Old World successfully reincarnates Prewitt a local border guard searching for illegal immigrants. Brian Herndon as the old man Pantalone is hilarious as her makes the old man’s miserly calculations and lust for Colombina’s bosoms very amusing scenes. Joe Lucas as Il Dottore gets his share of laughs in the Old World and is excellent as scruffy, abrasive know it all Wiseman in the New World.
Martin Flynn’s low tech set is excellent and light designer Heataher Basarab transforms a Venetian village into a modern beachfront just by brightening the stage. Maggie Whitaker’s genre-appropriate costumes are perfect for both acts with the bright commedia garb for the Old World and the gaudy’s 60’s setups for California.
“Truffaldino Says No” plays through July 29th at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Berkeley. For tickets call 510-841-6500 or on line at www.shotgunplayers.org Coming up next is Madeline George’s “Precious Little” opening on August 18 and running through September. 9