Monday, August 22, 2016

Trickster of Seville—Masque Alfresco—SW OR Parks

Comedy With A Bite

This Commedia dell’arte style show is sprinkled with bits of Moliere, Shakespeare and other comedy writers of the 1600’s.  It is freely adapted to include modern references to political and celebrity figures and situations by Ravyn Jazper-Hawke and directed by the founder of this 15 year old company, Fayra Teeters.  It has played with sponsorship from and at parks in Lake Oswego, Beaverton and next weekend’s final performances at 7 pm at the Civic Plaza in Hillsboro, 150 E. Main St. in Hillsboro (bring blankets or chairs for seating).  It is a free event but a collection will be taken up at the end of the show.  For more information, go to their site at www.masquealfresco.com 

Combine a circus, vaudeville, singing, politics and comedy galore and who’ve got “…a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.”  Or, better yet, just watch some of the current political sniping occurring and you have many of the same elements.  And, as in most comedies of the 1600’s, notably Shakespeare, they all have wise clowns, buffoons as rulers, mistaken identities, masks and disguises, and a plot that is only a flimsy excuse to just get up and have fun.  As in another play of the same ilk, the musical, A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, it is essentially, “comedy tonight.”

If you must have a story to hang your hat on, then here it is in brief but, be warned, the success of this show is not in the story but in the manipulations, machinations and madcap mischief of the style in which it is presented.  It seems that Don Juan (yes, that one, the Great Romancer) is once again in the neighborhood plying his wares but this time it is in the Court of Naples and with the Queen’s (Athena McElrath) favorite lady-in-waiting, Carlotta (Sophie Foti).  Mr. Juan (Kenneth Dembo) has disguised himself as the Duke Octavio (Ravyn Jazper-Hawke) and so, when the ax is to fall, they will be looking for the Duke, instead.

The Queens’s ambassador, Don Pedro (KJ McElrath), tries to soothe things over with the Queen but has his own motives for this.  Meanwhile Don Juan attempts to flee the kingdom by boat but it is overturned and his is saved by his servant, Brighella (Mark Friendly).  They are taken in by some peasant fishermen, Tisbea (Jessica Reed) and her husband, Fabio (Iain Chester) but, being the rake that he is, he attempts to woo her as well.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch…er, castle, Don Gonzalo (Rian Turner) has arrived and has plans to marry his daughter into royalty.  Well, things just get messier after that….
Suffice to say, it all works out at the end (sort of) and everyone gets their just deserves (kind of).

But, I repeat, the charm of this piece is in how they incorporate local and national political figures and situations into this pot-boiler.  Much of the humor works, as Trump gets the lion’s share of the satire but, of course, it’s not to be taken seriously, as they are just joking (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).  The couple of songs are very appealing and the rap number is quite good.  All in all, it is good fun!

Dembo as the lover is very effective with his glib tongue, focused energy and suave demeanor.  Jazper-Hawke has a script that does a fine job of combining a past art form with modern antics and seeing that the mix is spookily too real.  And she is quite good as the Duke, too.   Teeters keeps the play moving at a fun pace, even getting the audience involved at times.  McElrath is an accomplished musician, borrowed from other companies, such as Stumptown, and is in fine form here, too, as is his wife as the Queen, having a nasty frown throughout and a shrill voice that, alone, would dissuade any suitors.

It is well cast and done simply, outside, against a marvelous tree, with minimal costume changes, which only adds to the charm of the piece.  I am especially impressed with some of the “low-tech” shows that have been presented this season, the crowns going to Around the World in 80 Days, by Beaverton Civic Theatre and, especially, Peter and the Starcatcher by Portland Playhouse.  This “black box” approach tends to stress on the story and actors for the strength of their presentations and not on any external trappings.  That takes guts and, when successful, quite effective.

I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.