"Commedia King John" is a half-baked show, but the half that is baked is pretty tasty. I learned a lot watching this show, actually, and gained a lot of respect for what the performers are working on. Behind a set of custom masks, true Commedia characters are being crafted, in the old style; a Dottore, two Capitanos, a Miabella, two Zannis, and a Pantalone.
One of the beauties of commedia, ladies and gentleman, is that you’ll never get the same show twice. Imagine, if you will, a sitcom; it has a simple plot, and a cast of seven characters. The show itself has a structure; a series of scenes between certain combinations of characters which help advance the plot, but have large holes left in them for improvisation. All seven performers know which sections are set, scripted pieces that help move the story along, and which sections are there for them to play with.
And, therein, the art. Some of it is very fine. In this show, the actors are pairing the Commedia work they’re doing with long soliloquies from Shakespeare’s King John. The match is nicely complementary, but the show felt very long, to me, and uneven. In places the show was so funny it had me gasping for air; but many others fell flat, or suffered from a surfeit of wild gesticulating and shouting that didn’t add up to much. I do think it is fantastic that Chicago dell’Arte is doing what they’re doing, however, and I look forward to seeing their work, and craft, develop in their next show.