The Imaginary Autopsee

The Clinic – 1006 6th St. NW

Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 23, at 6 p.m.

They say: “A classic Commedia dell’Arte play complete with impossible situations, mistaken identity, and a happily ever after ending! Wild physical comedy, innuendo, and improvisation make sure that any audience member watching The Imaginary Autopsee will laugh themselves TO DEATH!”

Derek’s Take: If the thought of a show stuffed with “stock” characters sets off your stereotype alarm, The Imaginary Autopsee kindly advises you to chill the hell out.  I mean, we’re talking the 16th Century here.  And Autopsee, anyway, is an equal opportunity lampooner:  in its world of nutty masters and servants, everyone exudes a buffoonish and energetic charm that transcends boilerplate, even for the politically correct.

Roger Payano’s production begins with an announcement stunning to modern ears:  Dottore (Jeff Hylden), the revered medicine man of his tiny burg, doesn’t buy the claims of arterial science and vows to disprove the theory of closed circulation.  An open system it must be!  This, though, is of little concern to Pantalone, the stooped treasure-seeker who asks to marry Isabella, the doctor’s daughter.  The proposition’s a go until Dottore’s imperious wife gets involved, applying a smackdown worthy of her officious German accent and Idi Amin-like medallion-wear.  There will be no such marriage on her watch.

Enter then, Arlecchino (Ryan Sellers), the man charged to woo Isabella on behalf of Pantalone’s son (you read that right), Lelio.  Disguised in a fake beard and packing a love letter entrusted to his delivery, Arlecchino infiltrates Dottore’s lair and is discovered by Colombina (Aniko Olah), the maid.  What ensues is an inspired sequence accompanied by a pop music soundtrack hummed by the players offstage.  Arlecchino and Colombina purr and claw to the sounds of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and in turn stalk each other like chimps with a hankering for nits, but are quickly interrupted by the doctor; it’s dissection time!

Arlecchino plays a cadaver to obscure his tryst with Colombina, but at great peril – Dottore intends to cut him open and settle the blood question once and for all.  Sellers and Hylden transform the scene with their hyperkinetic physicality, with Hylden’s probing prompting unexpected “reflex” actions from Sellers, including an always amusing jab to the doctor’s crotch.  Sellers shines in his role, which in later scenes has him playing a doctor himself, prescribing bogus curatives to a grateful populace.  This turn also yields the play’s greatest visual:  Arclecchino performing “gyrotherapy” by lifting Dottore onto his shoulders and spinning him round and round, another badly needed fan in the Clinic’s suffocation zone.

The result is a highly entertaining romp, a vibrant must-see spectacle.  Payano and his cast do this Commedia dell’Arte classic proud.

See it if: You’re ready for a rollicking introduction to Commedia dell’Arte.

Skip it if: You’re put off by the show’s would-be credo, a flimsy assurance from a 1970s soap opera: Trust me, I’m a doctor.