Aria da Capo | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Aria da Capo, National Pastime Theater.

Although Edna St. Vincent Millay's fantastical farce was written for adults, National Pastime Theater's production uses this poetic, playful one-act to introduce a younger audience to theatrical styles and devices. In Millay's script, a sort of director-producer-higher power named Cothurnus allows actors to perform according to his divine whims. National Pastime's production explores the power dynamics of human relationships through the plays onstage--a commedialike farce and a pastoral tragedy--as well as offstage, but focuses on theatrical styles.

We first meet pretentious Columbine and Pierrot, a pair of lover/rival Harlequins, in the farce. Director Daniel Haag uses exaggerated physical comedy bits--lots of flying fruit and stage slaps--to entertain, but in doing so downplays Millay's wit. The clowns come across as silly, but more because of the outrageous physical gags than because of their intellectual and emotional insincerity. When Cothurnus interrupts the action and demands that the tragedy be played, Haag's direction loses focus. The tale of Thyrsis and Corydon--two greedy shepherds who build a wall between them--combines ancient Greek and Elizabethan styles, which muddles the action and dilutes the shepherds' story. Attention is sustained only by Pierrot and Columbine's backstage fighting and Cothurnus's interjections.

Though this production waters down Millay's ironies--the fact that the actors are being manipulated even as they manipulate us--it maintains a sense of fun and wonder, and it does work as an introduction to historical styles of drama. Hopefully it will encourage children to return to the theater to learn about content as well as form.

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