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A taste of commedia dell’arte

A taste of commedia dell’arte

KARACHI: A flavour of Italy, with a seasoning of Pakistan, drew a large audience at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Friday where Italian actor, director and theatre teacher Marco Luly presented the production of commedia dell’arte, in collaboration with the Consulate of Italy.

With comedy the main thrust, commedia dell’arte is a form of theatre that originated in Italy in the 16th century and is credited for having inspired Western theatre. With the breaking of the fourth wall between the actors on stage and the audience, commedia dell’arte at Napa presented a market of stories, with stock characters, masks and humour being used to forward the narrative of each tale. Some of the stock characters included servants, masters and lovers.

The play began with an invitation to the audience to witness the birth of a jester. For long the jester has achieved a status in literature as a character of political and cultural significance; is he merely a fool or does he reveal truths masked in the guise of humour? Shakespeare’s plays are most marked in the appearance of the jester. Mr Luly in his conversations with the crowd, revealed that Shakespeare had in many of his plays incorporated several theatrical traditions of commedia dell’arte.

A tale of ambition and love, tragedy and retribution, the jester’s monologue held the attention of the audience.

The famed lovers Heer and Ranjha also made an appearance on stage. Their love story, this time set in 2017, had to battle more contemporary issues, like finding affordable places to eat and not get fleeced by beggars.

The many masks and the many characters, and the many interpretations of all these were the product of a workshop conducted by Mr Luly. In commedia dell’arte, improvisation is key and under Mr Luly’s direction, the different actors were able to internalise each and every incredible character they were entrusted with and still retain a distinct identity. All the characters were memorable in their own and yet also part of the larger narrative.

The highlight of the evening was watching Mr Luly engage with the audience and also perform several of the characters. When he embodied the role of Pantolone, a principal character in commedia dell’arte, who is also considered to be a metaphorical representation of money, the use of exaggerated actions and miming had the crowd in raptures. Despite his age, Pantolone serenades a younger woman, and is oblivious to her utter disregard for him.

Italian Consul General Gianluca Rubagotti also spoke before the production was staged and shared his excitement at being part of a venture that supported art and culture in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2017

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