BWW Reviews: CATCO'S Commedia Dell'Arte Version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
In a partnership with ColumbusStateCommunity College, CATCO presents its version of Beauty and the Beast, entitled "Beauty and the Beast: Isabella e la Bestia" in Studio One at the Riffe Center now through January 27th. Set in Venice, this rendition bears virtually no resemblance to the Disney animated version bearing its name, but as it was attended by many Groveport Elementary students during its matinee, I can attest, it is still enjoyable for a younger crowd.
The show begins a bit abruptly in Italian, which left several adult chaperones around me questioning aloud, "Will the kids understand this?", but fear not. After a brief introduction, the court-jesterish Il Datore, played comedically by Ben Sostrum, appears with a translation, and then the show takes off in largely English, much to the relief of a somewhat befuddled audience. The storyline portrays two young people - Leandro (Cody Shope) and Isabella (Joanna Van Sickle) - who want to marry, but are forbidden by Isabella's father, Pantalone (Bill Darby). Pantalone's servant, Arlecchino(Jeff Horst), devises a complicated scheme, with the goal of uniting Leandro and Isabella, and enlists the assistance of the Italian version of The Three Stooges, called the Zanni (played by Ayla Stirnaman, Jordan Phillips, and Elise Randall) in a quite amusing, physical comedy fashion.
The script, created by local playwright, Steven C. Anderson, is an adaptation of the classic tale told skillfully through the traditional Italian street-theater-style known as commedia dell'arte, which uses masks for most characters. In doing so, Anderson created a dynamic that pushed his performers to use largely their bodies and their voices alone to develop their characters- a challenge daunting to even veteran performers, yet one that the CATCO folks, as well as their CSCC students embraced with wonderful results. Directed by CATCO's Joe Bishara, in affiliation with Columbus State Advisor, Frank Barnhart, the stock comedia dell'arte characters were skillfully brought to life in forms that even the youngest of audience members found understandable and enjoyable. Jeff Horst as the mischievous and witty Arlecchino, enveloped the stage with a Super-Mario-esque accented hilarity and tremendous stage presence. Terrell Saviour, as Il Capitano, a character designed to be a caricature of a professional soldier- bold, swaggering, but unfortunately cowardly, delighted the younger audience with his bold speeches that turned into ladylike shrieks of fear upon the slightest hint of impending doom. This character's mask covered more of his mouth than several of the other characters, so from the back row of the theater, his voice carried less well than others on stage, but his physical comedy more than made up. Ben Sostrom, who played the dim-witted Il Datore, was equally skilled in physical comedy. However, the award in that category clearly goes to the three Zanni, who each developed their own slapstick comedic bits played repetitively enough to be predictable, but not overdone, providing a nice degree of audience participation in the form of cued laughter and applause, as well as a well-played energy to the show. An interesting twist, the Lovers-Inamorato/Inamorata, Leonardo and Isabella were played as marionette-like characters, without masks, but devoid of facial expression and acted through severe, mechanical movements. Costumed beautifully by designer Marcia Hain, both the lovely Van Sickle, and the elegant Shope did a fabulous job creating evolved character personalities with little more than their voice to work with, quite impressively. Another character that was central to the storyline as Isabella's father was the stock character of Pantalone, a caricature of a Venetian merchant, rich and miserly, played quite proficiently by CSCC student, Bill Darby (who humorously, half of the student audience argued was actually Jack Black upon his removal of his mask). Darby, did a tremendous job alongside the CATCO cast as this type of theater requires a great deal of camaraderie, comedic timing, and improvisation within a theme to be able to be pulled off well, and Darby fit in superbly, masterfully portraying a more seasoned character while being one of the younger members of the cast. You'll note that I never mentioned the "Beast", as there really isn't one, merely an alluded to threat that becomes a simple plot twist and does not at all detract from the course of the story, ironically enough.