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SVC Players' Production of 'Commedia' Opens Sept. 28

Public Relations
Posted: Monday Sep 24, 2012

September 24, 2012

Saint Vincent College players will present Commedia, a comedy by Dr. James Ragan, in the Performing Arts Center of the Robert S. Carey Student Center at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29, 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 30, and Oct. 7. General admission tickets ($10) will be available at the theatre box office prior to each performance.

“Mr. Ragan, a 1966 graduate of Saint Vincent College who is a poet, playwright and teacher and who was director of the master of professional writing program at the University of Southern California for 25 years, approached me during the summer of 2011 and said he would be happy for the college to do this if we were interested,” commented Colleen Reilly, who is directing the production. “He gave me a copy of the script and I thought it was something we would want to do and have fun with.”

Ms. Reilly said that the show is unusual. “It is a modern take on commedia dell’arte – a form of theater in Europe, particularly Italy and France in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries,” Ms. Reilly continued. “It roughly translates into comedy of art or comedy of the artists. The people who performed it were professional actors, which was something Europe had not really seen for many years. It was performed by professional actors who relied on stock characters and some stock or common situations. Some of the stock characters are still familiar to us today. Harlequin for example is a figure of this type of theater. Punch and Judy shows grew out of this. The clown, the old miser, the lawyer, young lovers, the comic relief, and the scheming servants are others. They found themselves in situations that would even be recognizable to audiences today such as a wealthy man scheming to protect his fortune or marry off his daughter for money, for example. A lot of these scenarios still appear in contemporary comedies. These actors would start with a basic scenario and build most of the dialogue and events themselves through rehearsal. They would run through it and build it up until they had a performance ready to go. The style that emerged combined complicated verbal humor with broad and very physical slapstick. In this play, most of the dialogue is provided but Mr. Ragan leaves a lot of freedom for improvisation and physical activity that the actors can discover themselves in rehearsal. He takes a traditional situation, two old men trying to exploit one another, a daughter being married off, young lovers, and clowns. He takes these stock figures and characters and puts them in a contemporary setting. The show is set in the wine country in North America in the present day. It’s not a very realistic depiction of wine growing in California but it allows them to throw in a few references and digs and do what commedia del arte did but apply it to contemporary ideas and concerns.”

“The show is a comedy with a happy ending and a lot of silliness and laughter along the way,” Ms. Reilly concluded.

A special feature of the show is the custom-made masks all of the actors and actresses will wear. “Commedia dell’arte was sometimes performed in masks,” Ms. Reilly explained. “And, we are going to use the masks. Each character has a different style as they would have originally. They are exaggerated and silly. Old men, silly harlequin masks. I think it will be a striking look. As an actor it is limiting because it cuts off part of the face for use but on the other hand it’s freeing. It’s like if people lose one sense, people who go blind, their hearing becomes better. That’s what happens with this. The rest of your body becomes more expressive.”

Commedia was originally produced by actor Raymond Burr at the Sonoma State University Theater on Feb. 2, 1984 with later productions in Moscow (1986, 2008), Athens (2008) and Beijing (2008) among others.

The production features Sheena Chopra, a continuing education student from Weirton, West Virginia; and Alison Kertz-Brooks, a freshman music major from Kirkwood, Missouri, as the magicians; Mark Harris, a sophomore performing arts major from Belle Vernon, as Pangrazio, a vintner; Alex Policicchio, a senior studio arts major from Johnstown, as Bolardo, a lawyer and enemy of Pangrazio; Rona Gehring, a sophomore music major from Robinson, as Zinfandel, daughter to Pangrazio; Cameron Smith, a sophomore history major from Kittanning, as Grignolino, oldest son to Bolardo; Mary Kathleen Cassidy, a freshman music performance major from Bridgeville, as Petite Sirah, friend to Zinfandel; Ed Graybill, a freshman music performance major from Pittsburgh (15215), as Pinot Noir, younger son to Bolardo; Jordan Ralph, a sophomore English major from Irwin, as Harley Quinn, friend to Pinot; Casey Ciocco, a senior Criminology, Law, and Society major from Latrobe, as Che, a grape picker; Felicia Watt, a junior Criminology, Law, and Society major from Blairsville, as Caesar, a grape picker; Tessa Hennessy, a freshman elementary education major from New Market, Maryland, as Bolley, a shadow to Bolardo and as a Vine and a Hunter; Abigail Sugrue, a freshman music major from Export, as Pansy, shadow to Pangrazio; Sean Nolan, a continuing education student from Greensburg, as a Vine and a Hunter; and Alexis M. Mozga, a freshman undecided major from Apollo, as a Vine and a Hunter.

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Photo: Student actors, left to right, Rona Gehring, Alex Policicchio, Cameron Smith and Ali Kertz rehearse a scene from the Saint Vincent College Players production of “Commedia” which opens Friday. 

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PR2012-479