By Chris Carcione
Of all my various tasks as Assistant to the Artistic Director, none have been as exciting as having the opportunity to be in rehearsals assisting Peter DuBois on his Huntington directorial debut, The Miracle at Naples.
Peter has been working with playwright David Grimm on this play for almost three years, from developing the original concept, and in readings in workshops. Last summer, the Huntington hosted the final workshop of the play, and many of those actors are featured in this world-premiere production.
We began the rehearsal process at the beginning of March with only a few of the actors. The play takes place in 16th century Naples and focuses on a traveling Commedia dell’arte troupe of players. Those early days, we focused exclusively on learning the stock characters of commedia and how these shows were performed. Because it is a masked performance style, much of its vocabulary relies on physical movements and posture, and each stock character has specific movements and gestures. Judith Chaffee, a commedia specialist from B.U., taught us about these, and then actors began to riff on the traditional commedia gestures to adapt them to better suit our play.
Peter Golub, the show’s composer, was also in rehearsal to teach the troupe their opening song, as it was customary to enter a town singing to attract audience members.
The most interesting part of the commedia work was seeing how it has influenced comedy over the years, particularly slapstick and situational comedy. Many of the commedia scenari, or storylines, involve elements found in sitcom comedy today: misunderstanding, mistaken identities, mix-ups, trickery, etc; and the lazzi involve elements seen in slapstick comedy like that found in the Marx Brothers, a big inspiration of Grimm’s. Much of the comedy we see today traces its roots back to the quirky comic style of commedia.
On the last day of the commedia workshop, we staged the play-within-a-play scene using the masks and a bunch of silly musical instruments to make sound effects and accent certain moments. It was really exciting to see how entertaining this centuries-old art form can be, and how influential it has been. Not bad for four days of work!
The Miracle at Naples, a world premiere by David Grimm, directed by Peter DuBois, April 3 through May 9, 2009 at the Huntington Theatre Company's second stage: the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Buy tickets online or call 617 266-0800. Rated V for Very Adult Comedy.