"The Fan," the 18th-century work by Carlo Goldoni that opened Friday night at the College of St. Scholastica, is a prime example of commedia dell'arte, with its roster of stock characters to be played for exaggerated comic affect.
Evarist wants to marry Candida, but when he breaks her fan and purchases a replacement from Susanna, he refuses to admit it is for Candida. When he gives the fan to Nina, the pleasant peasant girl who wants to marry the cobbler Crispino, so she can give it to Candida, the many characters overhearing the conversation jump to a host of wrong conclusions.
But with one brief exception, director Tammy Ostrander leaves the traditional commedia dell'arte masks on the sidelines and has her cast avoid the expected comic caricatures. Instead, Ostrander wants the dozen characters to come across more as real people.
The result of this ambitious approach is a pleasant evening of theater that is humorous rather than hysterical, with most of the laughs coming from those characterizations and creative stage business (e.g., never bring a tea spoon to a stool fight, use a stole to steal a scene), than what Goldoni scripted.
Mitchell Gertken as Evarist does the best job of meeting this challenge, delivering most of his lines in a perfectly normal and conversational manner that effectively captured the demands of this approach. Hanna McLevish has several nice little mouse-that-roared moments as Candida.
Every time Grace Brinkert's Nina complains about being dismissed as a "peasant girl," the emphasis was on the later, which struck a chord with the audience. Tyler Russell has the most physically taxing role as Crispino, which required him to be the one character that went through most of the doors on Kevin Seime's two-story set.
As the nattily attired Count Rocca, Richard Scrivener plays it big through a bunch of little bits of business, culminating in his absolute adoration of a little golden box of snuff.
Bailey Johnson's droll delivery of several nice salvos as Geltrude was too subtle to get laughs from the audience, but I thought she was wicked funny. Jemma Provance impressed by combining her French accent with nice comic timing as Susanna.
Hewing closest to the ancient tradition Conor Reindl's booming voice ensures Baron del Cedro's pomposity level is at the brim, while Nick Aspin unleashes a ferocious set of glares and pouts while stomping off stage as Coronato. Aspin gets the biggest laugh of the night in another bit of invented nonsense and does so without his coat of neon colors.
Ostrander sets "The Fan" in the French Quarter of New Orleans, so the pre-show music is all New Orleans jazz, highlighted by "Minnie the Moocher." The show opens with a dance and a series of pantomimes played out to "Save My Soul" that eventually put the dozen characters into their appointed places on stage.
Bookending each act with music and dance, including the curtain call, just reinforces how far this unique production goes beyond what was on the printed page to make "The Fan" their own.
If you go
What: "The Fan" by Carlos Goldoni
Where: St. Scholastica Theatre, behind Tower Hall
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and April 11-13; 2 p.m. Sunday and April 14
Tickets: $15 adults, $10 students/seniors at www.spotlight.css.edu