The House with Two Doors
Directed by Matthew R. Wilson
Devised by the ensemble; Written by Matthew R. Wilson & Toby Mulford based on the Casamarciano scenario
Produced by Faction of Fools
At the Shop at Fort Fringe to May 9
In Faction of Fools‘ latest, three cases of mistaken identity put young lovers on a humorous path of destruction and jealousy. First, there’s the rebellious Isabella (Vanessa Buono) who, when running away from home with her servant Coviello (Chase Helton), encounters a mysterious and attractive foreigner. Of course, she and Luzio (Graham Pilato)—the lovesick Spaniard with an impressive lisp—part without telling each other their names, which is only the beginning of their troubles. Isabella discovers that Luzio is a friend of her brother, Orazio (TD Smith), who thinks she is too young for courtship. Meanwhile, Orazio pines after Isabella’s best friend, Ortenzia (Michelle Tang Jackson), and the fathers of both girls wish to marry off their daughters to each other. Both Isabella and Ortenzia arrange to meet their lovers in the latter’s bedroom, but predictably poor timing leads to partner-swapping—infuriating for them, hilarious for us.
The production is influenced by the Commedia dell’Arte tradition of masked performers, stock characters, and physical comedy that rose to prominence during the Italian Renaissance. The House With Two Doors was written by the company based on one of 176 loose plotlines known as the Casamarciano scenarios and fleshed out over months of improvisation. Some of the Casamarciano characters have escaped the Renaissance: You might recognize the character of Luzio’s Neapolitan guide Pulcinella (J. Denise Perrino), who became the latter-day Punch of “Punch and Judy” fame. Even the masks are reasonably authentic—made of leather with hooked noses and tufted hair, they were crafted in Italy by a specialty mask-maker.
For a plot with such traditional origins, though, Faction of Fools has conceived a surprisingly modern production, especially in its instances of self-referential humor. The characters often poke fun at their austere set (“There you are, by the fire extinguisher!”) and the scene changes (“Don’t take my fainting couch! Leave the carpet!”). Oddly enough, the set contains no actual doors. But best of all are the temper tantrums thrown by the conniving Ortenzia, which involve an impressive and piercing whine/scream combo as she stomps around the set like a spoiled toddler in her attempts to spurn Orazio. For this, Jackson may be the most skilled comedian of the ensemble.