The House With Two Doors premieres Thursday as one of three productions in Capital Fringe‘s new Wattage performance series. The play, presented by the Faction of Fools Theatre Company, is steeped in the Commedia dell’Arte tradition: masked physical comedy with roots in 1500s Italy.
The play—a Renaissance bedroom face—is based on one of the 176 Casamarciano scenarios, or plot outlines, housed at the Library of Naples. Director Matthew Wilson says it was the scenario’s title that initially caught his eye. “It’s like an episode of Frasier,” he said. “People are coming and going and hiding from each other.”
Given that they only had the scenario to start with, the performers wrote the bulk of the play themselves. “Most of the characters’ dialogue is something that each performer came up with in improvisation,” Wilson says.
The Commedia dell’Arte tradition features a number of stock characters who maintain the same worldview and social status from one production to the next. The House With Two Doors, for example, features Pulcinella, a servant from Southern Italy who traditionally speaks a Neapolitan dialect.
“Sometimes he has a wife, sometimes he has children,” said Wilson. “He’s the only servant with his own world, and because of this he embodies the everyman.”
(If the masked Pulcinella seems familiar, it may be because he’s the basis for Punch—of Punch & Judy fame.)
Speaking of masks: Of the nine characters in the play, five wear them (older men and servants) and four do not (young lovers). Wilson explains:
“The young lovers stopped wearing masks in the 1560s. I’d be inclined to say they stopped wearing them because that time period marked the first time women performed on stage. When the audience got to see unmasked women onstage, it heightened the scandal factor and also probably sold more tickets.”
The House With Two Doors was initially set to open Tuesday, but the cast and crew received word last week that the opening would be delayed two days due to the neighboring Nuclear Security Summit. The production runs through May 9.