By Rob Melrose
I can hardly contain my excitement in sharing with Houston audiences my two greatest passions: commedia dell’arte and the city of Venice. Commedia dell’arte is a form of drama that originated in Italy from 1550-1750 featuring stock characters wearing masks and improvised comedic bits called lazzi (from the same root as the word lasso because they tie the play together). Cartoons, sitcoms, and the comedies of Shakespeare, Molière, and Goldoni all have their roots in commedia dell’arte. In fact the very pants you are wearing are named after a character you are about to meet: Pantalone, who becomes Pantaloon in English; the clothing he was known to wear came to be called “pants”! The Resident Acting Company studied with commedia dell’arte expert and mask-maker Antonio Fava, who travelled in from Italy this fall, and the masks in this production were created by him.
Venice has long been one of my favorite cities in the world. It is absolutely magical and wholly unique. Every moment I spend there feels like I’m living in a dream. The city is so full of art and beauty, it takes your breath away. At one time, it was the center of a mighty empire and thanks to one of its most famous citizens, Marco Polo, it has long been a meeting place of many cultures especially between East and West. These influences are seen in the art and architecture all over the city. It is also where the old meets the new. In modern Venice, tourists with selfie-sticks shop at Armani stores that are housed in buildings that were erected centuries ago and still have the feel of a long ago world. Our production tries to capture that feeling of old and new by having modern Italians interacting with the stock characters from their rich theatrical history that are still ever present in postcards for sale, bathroom signs, and watercolors in hotel lobbies. Venice is an amazing place and since I can’t take you all there myself, this production is the next best thing.