So I finally saw the new CDA musical "The Glorious Ones" at Lincoln Center this evening. I will try to keep my thoughts pertinent to the blog at hand.
If there was ever a show to forego the traditional voiceover announcement of no cell phones, etc, this is it. A Commedia show has the opportunity to start with a bang; to have a performer blast onto the stage, and speak directly to the audience, even chide. But this is not how we begin. The lights are dim, and we hear the small cast of seven singing Ah's and Oh's in a ghostly manner. Perhaps these are the ghosts of actors and archetypes past joining us at Lincoln Center.
Then we move into the exposition, which lasts for approximately the first third of this one-act piece. There is much 'telling', very little 'showing', much to the chagrin, I'm sure, of my high school freshman english teacher. Lyrics and staging keep telling us what the artform of Commedia was like, how boisterous the comedy was, even what the stage looked like.
Well, we're looking at the stage, and you can tell us there will be fart jokes, but that doesn't make them funnier if they're not performed with vitality and the spirit of the clown.
We finally see a snippet of a Commedia scenario, the Madness of...Columbina. Perhaps I should mention here that while Flaminio Scala, and Francesco and Isabella Andreini are portrayed as historical characters, Columbina, Dottore and Pantalone are...well...'themselves'. It's metatheatrical. So, it's the Madness of Columbina. For all their talk of bawdiness and boisterousness...it's pretty tame. And not too funny. And it looks like it's performed by actors, not clowns.
I do like most of these actors, at least, I have in the past. And they each have their moments of success in this show, but those moments are not in the scenaria or lazzi.
The thin plot centers on the written work of Isabella, supported by Francesco's passionate vision of the future of theater potentially supplanting the improvisation held sacred by Flaminio. Flaminio cries that once the theater is in the hands of the writers, the actors will no longer have the opportunity to speak the truth. Ironic that in this written work the honesty of the clown, the true Commedia performer is lacking in any of the potential comic moments.
Stylistically, there are some attempts to give the audience a glimpse of the CDA aesthetic, but most of this is easily exceeded by your average elementary school student circus program, I am sad to say. There is much curling and uncurling of fingers, and bows of politesse, because...well...I don't think they knew what else to do.
The biggest disappointment to me was in the mask work. One of the most powerful moments for an audience seeing a play with masked actors is the moment when the mask comes off. I have heard audiences gasp collectively when Arlecchino finally removes his mask at the end of a production of Servant of Two Masters. The transformative powers of the mask here were so weak to the point of nonexistence that I wonder why they used the masks at all, especially when Dottore, Pantalone and Columbina were already onstage in an unmasked fashion...it's kind of confusing.
Flaminio's eleventh hour plea for someone to remember his name, to remember his contribution to the artform will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who cares about what we do. And his comment, "A wooden stage; talented actors...this is heaven" will make us tear up. But...come on. If you really care about Flamino Scala, put some good Commedia on the stage.
I was hoping that this piece would have some unrealized potential, and that future regional theater productions would offer some nice work opportunities to teachers and performers of CDA. Sadly, I'm not so sure.
I understand that this is a new musical inspired by a novel inspired by the theatrical and personal history of a few CDA performers, not a Commedia play and should not be judged as such. But as a musical, it fails too, and they have too many moments of bad Commedia that it must be addressed in this blog, such as it is.