The plot is purposefully formulaic: a motley band of traveling players enters Naples to bring their bawdy humour and lasciviousness to the puritanical town on the high holy day of their saint, San Gennaro. When the saint's coagulated relic refuses to liquify, the town assumes it is because there are heretics in their midst. Naturally, they turn their ire to the acting rogues and, though, love triangles (and quadrangles) ensue, with characters this two-dimensional does anyone really care?
The most heartfelt applause for the entire show is for the set, a stunning work in forced perspective by Alexander Dodge. One wishes the gigantic life-like statue of San Gennaro could take the final bow as opposed to the performers. And the performers really are the biggest disappointment of this production as I believe they are incredibly talented actors. Veteran of Broadway and Huntington shows, Dick Latessa plays Fortunato, the impressario and pantalone of the traveling troupe. Granted, he receives the biggest laugh of the evening with a very un-p.c. bit baffooning French, German, and Dutch dialects. But, I couldn't help feel sorry for this amazingly talented actor trying to make art out of dung. Lucy DeVito as the short, spurned daughter and sole female performer in the troupe delivers a Jeneane Garofalo-like performance that almost tugs at your heartstrings, if only her role wasn't solely created to be the butt of cheap jokes. Christina Pumariega as the lusty innamorata Flaminia and Alma Cuevo as the columbine-stock-character, Francescina also deserve honorable mention for their utmost commitment to attempting to make the jokes fly. But like the slapstick that made commedia famous, most of the humor simply falls on its face.
I understand that the playwright was attempting to recreate the bawdiness and baseness of commedia del arte using contemporary language and revisionist sexual taboos. However, the legacy of this style of theatre is well documented in contemporary sitcoms and film. Any episode of South Park deftly mixes fart jokes and potty humour with critical social commentary in ways this play doesn't even aspire to. There have been many instances in attending theatre when I wanted to leave at intermission, this play holds the distinction of the first play I wanted to leave in the first ten minutes.
As for Peter DuBois, his direction of the show is nothing less than sloppy. The entrance of the players could (and maybe should) have a choreographic wonder, but the players simply run around and jump on any accesible scenery. In the first scene, I was so transfixed by the arbitrary choice to have an ensemble member stuccoing walls that my attention to the action of the play was distracted. Not to mention, the aerobic performances of Pedro Pascal and Gregory Wooddell, which have them constantly running apparently to get away from the flimsy script. Apparently, Mr. DuBois is committed to "developing new work," but his development process always seems to involve him vacationing in some fabulous destination with the playwright on his patrons' dime. For this show, they made a trip to Naples; however, everything they learned about commedia del arte could have been picked up by reading any Intro to Theatre History textbook. Likewise, Mr. DuBois is spending summers on the Cape "developing" new works. Considering that the Huntington is facing a $1.2 million deficit last I heard, perhaps the theatre needs a little more fiscal leadership and a little less "artistic development."