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By |2004-12-23T09:00:00-05:00December 23rd, 2004|Uncategorized|
Review: ‘Pedro Orsini’s Parade of Penniless Players’

Playful production provides plenty of pleasure
If an actor’s life is full of strife, as Pedro Orsini’s Parade of Penniless Players want you to believe at the opening of Planet Ant’s 15th original comedy, they need to do a better job convincing us. Instead, what the audience experienced at the opening night performance last Friday was a raucous, bawdy – and at times, outrageously funny – production unlike any seen so far this season.
If THAT’S a stressful life, count me in!
The show, written and performed by several of the area’s vagabond improvisers, is presented in the 16th century style of theater known as commedia dell’arte, a form few attempt today – and even fewer get right. It’s an intriguing concept that makes sense for performers such as these: The art of improvisation has its roots in that centuries-old tradition.
But it’s a style fraught with danger: If done well, commedia dell’arte can be fine theater; if not, it can be an embarrassment!
A highly stylized form of that theater, commedia dell’arte is generally performed upon a bare stage with a trunk that contains the troupe’s costumes and props. The stories – usually farcical comedies about sex, greed and politics – are built upon a sketchy plot from which the dialogue is improvised. And action – often slapstick – dominates.
What’s most unusual about commedia dell’arte, however, are its stock characters – caricatures, actually. The personas remain the same from story to story; only the plots differ. Each production usually includes two contrasting fathers of some social import, at least one pair of lovers, a braggadocio Spanish soldier, a couple of clowns and a quick-witted, sexually-charged serving wench. Costumes and unique half-masks worn only by the men – as well as very specific body movements – help immediately identify the characters from show to show.
In director Margaret Edwartowski’s frenetic tale, the not-so-bright and virginal Isabella is in love with Flavio, a far worldlier sort. Trouble looms when their fathers – Pantalone (a rich, greedy and lecherous man) and Dotore (a somewhat standoffish lout) – wager that each can find a better spouse for his offspring. The wedding is cancelled, and the hunt begins.
And as the actors readily admit in the show’s prologue, the misunderstandings that follow are worthy of TV’s hit comedy of yore, “Three’s Company”!
Only better!
It’s obvious from the moment the show begins that not only did Edwartowski and company do their research – local commedia experts Arthur Beer and Lavinia Moyer helped with the production – they lovingly revel in it! The result is a boisterous, joyous evening of theater, one filled with carefully crafted characters and delightfully naughty innuendo; it’s the perfect comedy to brighten the holiday season!
Most impressive are the performances given by Edwartowski’s eight talented cast members. Most are known primarily as improvisers – and those skills are put to good use in this production. But who knew they could be fine actors, as well!
Tim McKendrick excels as Arlecchino, Flavio’s dim-bulbed assistant. Tara Nida gives an enchanting performance as Isabella, while Jennifer Nischan seems to have way too much fun playing with the watermelons as the wench Smeraldina. (You’ll have to see the show – or better yet, sit in the front row if you’re a buxom woman – to fully appreciate that compliment!)
And Mike McGettigan gives his best performance so far this season as Dotore.
But it’s Nick Smith, wearing orange colored thermal underwear and an overly stuffed black codpiece, who especially shines in this production. His Pantalone is expertly crafted and wonderfully realized. It’s an excellent performance from start to finish!
“Pedro Orsini’s Parade of Penniless Players” Presented Thursday through Sunday at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck, through Jan. 9. Tickets: $10 – $15. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com.
The Bottom Line: It’s stylish, it’s goofy, but it’s also one heck of a fine evening of live theater!

Review: ‘The Reality Buffet’

Actors serve up true tales of life in the 21st century
Honestly, I’m not stalking Mike McGettigan.
Although it might look like I am, it’s just coincidence that the improviser/actor/writer has appeared in the last three shows I’ve reviewed this month. Maybe THAT’s what the cast of “Pedro Orsini’s Parade of Penniless Players” means when they sing, “An actor’s life is full of strifeƉ” – the only way they can make a living in their chosen field is to work constantly, everywhere and anywhere they can!
In this latest production, “The Reality Buffet,” staged every Sunday night by Motoprism at Detroit’s Matrix Theatre, McGettigan and seven other local improvisers bring to life 25 two-minute stories about their lives. Some are quite humorous, while others are brutally honest. And a few? Well, they can’t ALL be winners.
It’s a concept untested in this market, but one that helps separate Motoprism from the many other improv troupes that dot the area.
Under the watchful eye of Artistic Director Mark Mikula, the eight actors pre-script brief scenes based on their personal thoughts and experiences. Each is assigned an identity and title that fit the plot – for example, Mark Sobolewski’s skit about going on strike by not speaking is given the identity “Marcel Marceau and public speaker” and titled ” ” (which is funnier on stage than it is in print, trust me!). The 25 titles are posted on the theater’s back wall, and throughout the show, the audience chooses in which order they are presented.
And to keep things fresh, Motoprism retires 3 to 5 scenes each week and replaces them with new material.
The result, then, is very fast-paced and entertaining evening of interactive theater.
The brave few who came out in the frigid weather this past Sunday night were treated to a wide variety of topics, the best of which included “Pi,” Mikula’s hilarious tribute to “Sesame Street” and “School House Rock”; “Cute Boy on the Corner,” Scott Myers’ reenactment of every gay men’s favorite pastime; “I Wish It Would Rain,” Sobolewski’s poignantly pondered examination of his perpetual single-hood; “Evaporation,” Pj Jacokes’ thoughtful reaction to a photo of New York’s Flat Iron Building in the wake of 9-11; and “Girl on Girl Crime,” a look at women’s relations by Elana Elyce and Cara Trautman.
Most intriguing were two related scenes – which coincidentally ended up back-to-back that night. “Measuring Scott” featured the entire cast good-naturedly poking fun at Myers’ diminutive status, followed by “Once More With Feeling” in which the same topic is addressed, but far more dramatically. (Theater aficionados will appreciate the second scene’s title, “Uta Hagen.”)
If there’s a flaw with “The Reality Buffet,” it’s a result of the show’s basic structure: As the cast has no control over the sequence of skits, several serious scenes might follow a string of humorous ones. Such a flow could be problematic, but the banter among the cast between scenes – playful and otherwise – proves this cast of improvisers is fully aware of the flaw and works hard to keep the audienced focused.
“The Reality Buffet” Returns to the stage Jan. 9 and every Sunday evening thereafter by Motoprism at the Matrix Theatre, 2370 Bagley, Detroit. Tickets: $10. 313-967-0999. http://www.matrixtheatre.org.
The Bottom Line: Improv takes a new and very entertaining twist with “The Reality Buffet”

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