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The Mountain, Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church

900 Massachusetts Ave. NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday July 9, 7 p.m.
Thursday July 14, 7:45 p.m.
Tuesday July 19, 10 p.m.
Saturday July 23, 9:45 p.m.

They say: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the henhouse. Over 30 of DC’s favorite actors present Commedia scenes with pluck and cluck. Critics call Faction of Fools “witty and intelligent with awesome feats of physical comedy.”

70 Minutes

Sophia’s Take: Bringing you their 2nd Annual “Fool for All,” Matthew R. Wilson and the Faction of Fool’s Theatre Company ensemble are back to trod the Cap Fringe boards with Tales of Courage and Poultry. It is a matter of blog record that last year’s Tales of Love and Sausages made me laugh so hard I was forced to abandon my reviewerly discipline and succumb to my giggles. [EDITOR’S NOTE: The management of this blog emphatically does not promulgate any school of “reviewerly discipline” that would preclude our critics from laughing, for crying/guffawing out loud.] Courage and Poultry has less to offer in the way of hysterical laughter, but that’s not to say it isn’t funny. It is.

The Faction of Fools’ mission is to “preserve and promote,” as well as to create a relevant present for, the tradition of the theatrical style Commedia dell’Arte. Developed in 16th-century Italy, the style features broad physical comedy, familiar character types such as lusty lovers and mischievous servants, mask work, and improvisation. The ensemble has created nine scenes, but only four or five will be played on any one evening, in varying combinations. Each audience will be treated to a new lineup of scenes and a different cast. Fringe-goers who frequent the DC scene year round will recognize many of the show’s 43 oft’ working theater artists.

Faction of Fools’ opening night lineup had everything from incompetent lovers to flying rubber chickens, not to mention the opportunity to see masks made by Antonio Fava. Each one is an intricate and beautiful work of art in its own right.

Returning audiences will notice that the troupe continues to forge a connection between a contemporary sensibility and the centuries’ old form. The scene “Pantalone Had a Farm,” for instance, integrated American Sign Language with commedia-esque footwork, an odd combination that provided some of the clearest storytelling of the night.

Commedia demands specificity from the performers.  Some embodied their characters with more precision than others. The better an actor is at disappearing behind the mask, the more his or her individual physicality and wit is evident. The program says the troupe practiced in the spirit of the tradition with just a “few, rapid- fire rehearsals.” Yet, perhaps in doing so some chances for humor were sacrificed. The laughs should be derived from reacting to things imaginary: ducks, mosquitoes, farm chickens. When the pantomime is crystal clear the jokes land; when it isn’t they don’t. 

For the final musical sendoff, the ensemble members gathered their instruments and pulled in the audience to woo a damsel, and theater became vibrantly energized.

See it if: You enjoy watching a generous ensemble of players explore the relevance and potential of one of theater’s great traditions.

Skip it if: Renaissance slapstick humor isn’t your thing, or you think masks should be saved for Halloween.