Evanston’s Piccolo Theatre ensemble makes good use of the roots of their comedic style — Commedia dell’Arte — with their newly devised performance of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Venetian Twins.” The bare bones and intimacy of the production, with multiple stand-out performances, makes for an evening of delight for audience members.
Be warned: this is an evening of delight, with three acts clocking in around 2.5 hours. Goldoni’s original is more like five acts, so the ensemble at Piccolo has trimmed away the script to leave a modern and entertaining text. The acts whiz by; before the audience knew it, we were all asking- “is there a third act?”
Momentum is kept apace by the hard-working ensemble, who don masks carefully refashioned to keep Goldoni’s text afloat. And with only a handful of seats in the space, you will be drawn right in too much to lose focus on the performance.
The ensemble is keen to play off one another, and those small things are the real delight in this production. When they think no one is looking, the actors tip the scales in their favor with clever quips and gestures. More is loaded into this devised performance than any audience member could catch, due to the size of the cast and their quick work.
Some performances were more unique than others, but all actors put up a good show with bravado. Caitlin Aase’s Beatrice was by far the most precise and hilarious physical actor, using her sharp movements around the stage to expert effect. Her background activity was equally entertaining and often better than the play’s main action. Similarly, the conniving Pancrazio was crafted with true Commedia panache by Andy Huttel. He had merely to trill his r’s to send the audience into fits of giggles.
It would take some pages to explain the merits of every actor’s character, like the over-pronouncing Capitano Lelio of Drew Mierzejewski, or the pitch-perfect Columbina of Nicole Keating. It would also be a disservice to the production to dissect every actor in the piece- some not up to speed with the others. The total of the ensemble was greater than the sum of its parts, which meant a solid evening of Commedia.
Production design for “The Venetian Twins” is exceedingly minimal, as is necessary for a space scarcely larger than a matchbox (a charming matchbox). Most technical moments (too bad they were too few), such as the melodramatic rain at the end of act one, added immensely to the humor of the scene. Kudos to Ruth Hudson for a Spartan but effective lighting scheme, and to Sarah Lewis for the whimsy and pictorial accuracy of the narrow Venetian street scenic design.
Commedia can sometimes come off as “too much,” especially in the first ten minutes of a show. With this production, let your guard down, ease into your front row seat, and let the laughter bubble out. You will enjoy your time at Piccolo.
“The Venetian Twins” runs now through May 9, with performances Friday through Sunday, at Piccolo Theatre: 600 Main St., Evanston.