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|A CurtainUp Review
The Harlequin Studies
As a playwright Irwin has created something of an illustrated lesson on the Harlequin tradition associated with the commedia dell'arte theater. This lesson is introduced in a preamble in which Irwin and musical director Doug Skinner share professorial duties -- Irwin popping in and out of the trunk mimicing such Harlequin imitators as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Skinner orchestrating the lesson on a toy piano. Once the introduction establishing the Harlequin's history as clown, acrobatic dancer and play character (most notably as a comical servant) ends, Skinner is led to a Yamaha grand in the curtained- off section where he spends the rest of the show with percussionist Sean McMorris and violin/viola player David Gold.
Irwin being above all a physical performer, is a more visual than verbal playwright. The segments that follow the preamble speak for themselves, so that the lessons or "studies" are more like a picture book than a text. The first segment titled "The Studies" consists of a series of short and hilarious sketches or harlequinades showing the Harlequin in a variety of roles. The second and somewhat too drawn-out segment, which entails a complete change of scenery, is a tongue in cheek, fully plotted commedia dell'arte drama entitled "Harlequin and His Master Wed." Naturally, given the length of this entire enterprise, this tale of a maiden about to be married off to an ugly old man whose servant, the Harlequin, also lusts after her (a draped hatrack deftly employed to express his yearning) progresses at break-neck speed though this doesn't prevent it from including some risqué double entendre business with a broom and sock.
Though Irwin in his many Harlequin guises is clearly the star, Irwin the director has smartly surrounded himself with half a dozen performers who are fully attuned to his inspired style of humor. Paxton Whitehead, Rocco Sisto and Marin Ireland ably segue between leading roles as master, villain and young damsel in the longer piece as well as bit parts during the shorter vignettes. Rocco Sisto has an especially hilarious turn in which, with the help of Catherine Zuber's witty half man, half curly-haired woman outfit, he changes sex simply by shifting from one side of the ever magical trunk. Whitehead, a gifted comedian, is the ideal lecherous old master. Steven T. Williams, John Oyzon and Andrew Pacho round out the splendid cast as three acrobatic dancers or "Dream Harlequins." Their energetic and graceful ballets do much to enhance the viewer's visual pleasure. Bravo also to Douglas Stein for his airy set design, James Vermeulen's lighting and all of Catherine Zuber costumes.
It's nice to know that we can look forward to two more Irwin offerings: a new version of his breakthrough 1982 piece, The Regard Evening and Mr. Fox: a Rumination, a play about America's first celebrity clown, George L. Fox. After trying his hand, and quite successfully so, in a straight acting role (as the troubled husband in Edward Albee's The Goat), it's good to have Irwin the clown back to make us all appreciate what great fun really great clowning can be.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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