March 26, 2009

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The original sitcom
UNH Durham brings commedia dell’arte to UNH Manchester

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Productions from the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Theatre and Dance in Durham don’t normally make it west to UNH Manchester. In fact, I C No Arrlechino might be the first to travel between the two.

David Kaye, associate professor at the Department, created this part-scripted, part-improvised commedia dell’ arte piece, which will be performed Thursday, April 2, at 7 p.m., at UNH Manchester.

Kaye said UNH’s Little Red Wagon summer touring show for children has stopped at the Manchester campus, but it’s not geared to the student body. I C Arrlechino is the first departmental production he’s tried to bring. One reason for the appearance is to provide a low-cost opportunity for UNH Manchester students to see work related to courses like Introduction to Theater. UNH Manchester English associate professor Susanne Paterson helped make the event possible. (Some students are required to watch this show for class.)

Commedia dell’arte originated in Italy in the 14th century and is the basis for perhaps all comedy we see today, Kaye said. Basic plots and characters in TV, theater and film, including The Simpsons and “pretty much any American sitcom,” can be tracked to commedia dell’arte, Kaye said. Mr. Burns of The Simpsons is “perhaps one of the greatest examples” of Pantalone, the commedia stock character of the old miser.

The title of Kaye’s show comes from another stock character, Arrlechino, also known as Harlequin. He’s “the put-upon crafty servant ... very naive, but very sweet ... he often finds himself in middle of all this madness,” Kaye said. Art Carney in The Honeymooners is one example, Kaye said.

Because Italy had many different dialects, commedia actors relied less on language and used very physical comedy. They also used masks, costumes and specific behavioral traits to identify the roles. Commedia troupes didn’t need to spend much time establishing the characters since everyone knew them, Kaye said.

Commedia originally was almost entirely improvisation, and evolved into a scripted form in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a mixture in between those times, as is I C No Arrlechino, Kaye said.

For UNH, they “decided to keep it very traditional,” Kaye said. Four actors play eight roles, using traditional masks and costumes, using a set reminiscent of an Italian piazza.

“The most important thing is it’s really funny,” Kaye said. It’s tailored to the audience and “completely unrepeatable,” he said.

Ginger Lever, of UNH Manchester College Relations, said while this is the first such exchange, students from both campuses interact by taking courses at other campuses and through undergraduate research and study abroad programs.


On stage
What:  I C No Arrlechino, presented by UNH Durham’s Department of Theatre and Dance
When: Thursday, April 2, at 7 p.m.
Where: UNH Manchester, third-floor auditorium, 400 Commercial St., Manchester.
Cost: $10
Contact: 641-4321, www.unhm.unh.edu

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