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|A CurtainUp Review
Last year the Pearl Theatre Company successfully breathed new life into the musty old thriller Angel Street. The Pearl's 1999-2000 season gets under way by resuscitating an even older play -- Carlo Goldoni's eighteenth century comedy Mirandolina about one woman's way of dealing with four suitors representing various male attitudes towards her sex.
With the help of a very lucid new translation by Michael Feingold and some of the Pearl's best actors and designers, director Lou Jacob has managed a remarkable feat. He has given the production the look and feel it must have had when it premiered in 1753. The characters are handsomely and accurately costumed and bewigged in the style of the period, yet the staging is ultra-contemporary. Klara Zieglerova's stunningly original expressionistic set is dominated by scrim panels interspersed with venetian blinds which lighting designer Brian Nason bathes in soft mauves. This see-through backdrop provides the requisite doors for many entrances and exits for the players in this satire. It also frequently frames the off-stage actors in riveting human tableaus to accompany the stage front action.
It all makes for a production that is original and fun to watch, without the sort of drastic updating of acting and costume styles typical of reworkings, notably of Shakespeare. Mr. Jacob has directed the actors to move through the bare, expressionistic set with much shameless and, for the most part, apt, playing to the audience via constant confidential asides. The bell commonly used to summon servants cleverly invokes the sense of another round in a boxing match, albeit a verbal one. There are many other such touches to keep this from playing like either a creaky old chestnut or a modernization that submerges the original play.
At the heart of the story is the feisty Mirandolina, played with Mediterranean flair by Robin Leslie Brown (though, as the program notes indicate, her roots are in Scotland). The death of Mirandolina's father left her the sole proprietor of a successful boarding house. Her prosperity, earthiness, unpredictability and independent spirit, have every man she meets wanting her as his exclusive hostess. Each thinks he has something to offer her, but whether that something will meet her need to be "stirred, cherished, adored" (as well as retaining the freedom to be true to herself) is another matter and the arc around which the plot revolves.
The chief competitors for Mirandolina's affections are the Marquis of Forlipopoli and the Count of Albafiorota (John Wylie as the former and T. Ryder Smith as the latter both giving drolly over the top performances). The first trades on his aristocratic background to compensate for his lost youth and wealth, the second tries to buy her love with gifts (as he's apparently also bought his title). A third boarder, Colonel Ripafratta (Bernard K. Addison) is an avowed woman-hater and thus would seem to be no suitor at all. A letter from someone offering to find him a wife has him declaring ". . .a wife! I'd sooner they found me malaria!" He disdains the love smitten Marquis and Count as "cartoons of lovers."
Not surprisingly, the Colonel's misogynist attitude is a challenge to Mirandolina. She's an eighteenth century woman, not a twentieth century feminist, so she's not above a bit of game playing to win the tricky game of subterfuge between the sexes, and between the aristocracy and the increasingly more competent working class she represents. And so, as she has put off the Marquise and the Count's advances, she is determined to add the Colonel to her string of admirers. "If he's not in love with me by tomorrow may my nose fall off."
Unlike Molière who inspired Goldoni to replace conventional commedia dell'arte with its masked harlequins with character comedies about ordinary people, Goldoni was not soured on women but saw them as a miraculous force, the very heart of Italy. Mirandolina is very much a heroine. She may be a bit of a schemer, but her creator viewed her with affection (her very name translates into "The Little Miracle" -- which is the reason it was translator Feingold's choice as a title instead of the alternatively used The Mistress of the Inn and La Locandiera.
Of course, we all know that Mirandolina's nose is in no danger of falling off. Not only the Colonel but his valet (Matthew Gray) fall under her spell -- the latter sending the audience in an uproar when he states "men would do tricks like a puppy for a woman like her" as he puckers up his face as if he were a canine. Addison's Colonel, does not tap as deeply as it should into the nuances of a man changing from hating all women to madly loving one.
As if there weren't enough Mirandolina-mad men, there's also her servant Fabrizio (Dan Daily -- the deliciously funny policeman in Angel Street again endearing enough to be part of these romantic antics). Without title or money, but deeply devoted, he is like Mirandolina a pragmatist who knows that "sometimes you have to keep one eye shut while some things slip by.
Also on board is Daily's Angel Street co-star Carol Schultz who plays one of two actresses (Helen Mutch playing the other). The two actresses are handsome and colorful to look at and do add some fun to the proceedings. However, they also drag matters out to two-and-a-half hours. When the legendary Eleanora Duse starred in the play, these ladies were eliminated altogether -- short of similar character assassination, I think the able and inventive director, might have found some way to cut a half an hour and possibly one of those intermissions to keep restlessness with some of the play's repetitiveness at bay.
Despite the last quibble, most members of the audience stayed the course until all the loose ends were tied up. The isolated few who defected at the second intermission because the outcome was as I heard one woman say "so inevitable" missed a bit of a surprise. Mirandolina is after all an unpredictable, changeable character and her choice is not all that inevitable!
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