‘I See No Arlecchino’ - Italian comedia returns to the Players’ Ring Theatre

Jan 16, 2024 785

BY: Suzanne Laurent

To lighten up the winter doldrums, The Players’ Ring Theatre in Portsmouth (NH) is showing “I See No Arlecchino,” Jan. 26 through Feb. 11, directed by Kelli Leigh-Ann Connors. 

Written by David Kaye and Evan Russel, this hysterical piece features all the traditional beloved masks of commedia dell'arte: Arlecchino, Colombina, Brighella, Pantalone – just to mention a few. Intrigue, innuendo, mistaken identities and incredible misunderstandings are the key ingredients of this fast-paced romp that will make your jaw hurt with laughter. 

Jessica Miller, a cast member who was on the original development team with Kaye, while a freshman at the University of NH, described commedia as a “highly physical slap-stick comedy with a cast of stock characters he lovers, the old miser, etc.” 

“I like to think of it as a live-action cartoon with a very thin, if at all existent, fourth wall,” Miller said. “It's pure, raucous comedy.” 

Also in the cast are Shaughnessey Gower, Courtney St. Gelais and Griffinn Gower.

Griffinn Gower created the lighting design and set construction; Shari Lockhart is the scenic painter; Valerie Smith did costume design; and Talyssa Goulet is stage manager.

 ‘Just pure fun’

 “There are no cautionary tales, no resonating messages, no questions to be pondered; just pure fun,” Connors said.

 “Some shows spark thoughtful conversations on the ride home from the theatre while others restore one's faith in humanity,” Connors added.

 “My hope is that after witnessing ‘I See no Arlecchino’the patrons will call up their bestie and say, ‘What are you doing tomorrow night…you’ve got to see this show, it was a total blast!’”

 This past summer, Connors traveled to Italy to learn from a maestro.

 “Sometimes you get a notion into your head to ‘throw caution to the wind’ and do something wild and crazy, like go to Italy for a month and study commedia dell'arte with a maestro— and then, sometimes you actually do it,” Connors said.

“Days in the classroom, nights in the piazza, and travel on the weekends, what could be better? Prego!”

The creation of ‘I See No Arlecchino’ 

Playwright David Kaye said he’s had a long love of commedia and clown-based performance. He started training in these physical comedy forms in graduate school at Brandeis, and has continued to attend workshops and intensives in this area, since then. 

“The origins of ‘I See No Arlecchino’ goes back about 10 years ago when I proposed a touring production for the UNH department of Theatre and Dance’s ARTSreach program,” Kaye said. 

“The idea would be to create a play that would introduce an audience to the world of commedia dell’arte, its comic structures and characters. Because this needed to tour with a small cast, and because we could take advantage of the masks for actors to play multiple characters, it was conceived of as a four-actor, eight-character production.” 

To create the play, Kaye cast a small company of actors who, after training them in improv, commedia and mask work, engaged in about two weeks of improv structures and story exploration. 

“I had created the title a year before and had only a vague idea of what it meant,” he said.  “I knew, however, that it would end with Arlecchino in disguise, culminating in pandemonium as a result of his absence.” 

With Russel (one of the development actors) creating a draft for the final scene, the two playwrights went back into rehearsals. 

The piece went on to be invited for a special presentation at the Region 1 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and a high school friendly version has made it to the state theatre festival competitions in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. 

What does it mean to wear a mask as an actor? 

Cast member Shaughnessey Gowen said, “As an actor so much of our performance is dependent on how our face emotes throughout a play. Wearing a mask hides so much of your face that you need to explore other methods of storytelling. “During the Covid years, I discovered that I rely on my eyebrows and mouth a lot as an actor. That knowledge prepared me for this show, which requires a fixed mask,” she said. 

“In working with the mask, I realized that I am not stuck with the fixed expression. I can change it by fully inhabiting the mask and using my full body to convey the action of the scene.” 

The Ring has a long history with commedia 

“The Players’ Ring has a long history with the European tradition of commedia dell’arte,” said Barbara Newton, co-founder of the Players’ Ring Theatre with her late husband Gary. 

“If I recall correctly, we did some shows in this style even before we opened in 1992. They were presented at other outdoor locations, such as Prescott Park,” she added. 

“We then started a weekly series at the theatre titled ‘Commedia al Dente,’ featuring lots of improvisation, Gary would also give lectures and demonstrations, about the history, the acting style, the masks, the costumes and even make up at that time. It is fantastic to reconnect with something that used to be part of our offering years ago.” 

The Players' Ring is grateful for the support of its Main Sponsors: The Eppes-Jefferson Foundation, The Puddle Dock Restaurant, Tour Restaurant, Southport Printing Company, Kennebunk Savings and MacEdge.  

Across from the Ring, The Puddle Dock restaurant and its sister restaurant, Tour, on Lafayette Road offer a 10% discount on food to Players' Ring patrons. Visit their websites to reserve, and present your ticket when you ask for your check.



Go & Do

“I See No Arlecchino” – an original commedia dell'arte, directed by Kelli Leigh-Ann-Connors

Where: The Players’ Ring Theatre, 105 Marcy Street, Portsmouth, NH

               Phone 603-436-8123

When: Jan. 26 – Feb. 11. Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.;                    Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Show is 90 minutes in duration with no intermission.

Cost: General Admission: $28; Students / Seniors (65+): $25.

This show is included in subscription packages.

Visit www.playersring.org to purchase tickets.

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