Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009

Impressions of MIRANDOLINA

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The stage is filled with sheets hanging from lines. There are a few doors, windowsills and pieces of furniture. Just enough there to suggest something like a domestic setting. Actually it is a hotel. An Inn in Florence, Italy run by a Carlo Goldoni character. It’s a cleverly minimalist set by Noele Stollmack. With nearly all of the walls represented by sheets, Stollmack must’ve saved the Rep a fortune on all of the work and materials that would’ve gone into a more realistically representational set.

The production stars Deborah Staples in the title role of a woman who has come to run an inn almost entirely by herself. She is aided by only by a servant named Fabrizio, played by Gerard Neugent. Mirandolina is a woman who almost inadvertently holds a vast amount of charm, attracting attention from Fabrizio and the men who stay at the Inn. Aspiring suitors include a wealthy man of questionable taste (as played by Steve Pickering) a man of high status but little wealth (played by Torrey Hanson) and a confirmed bachelor knight (played by Brian Vaugbn) who would just as soon have nothing to do with her or any other woman.  Equity actresses Carey Cannon and Cristina Panfilio round out the cast as a pair of actresses who have come to the inn in disguise as nobility 

The story moves lightly along with quick little morsels of romantic comedy. With local temperatures expected to be in the 20’s through much of the rest of the week, it’s not Spring yet, but this is the perfect inconsequentially fun comedy to remind theatergoers that warmer, less severe times are just weeks away. The ensemble moves quite capably though the motions of a pleasant, if not entirely inspired script. It’s fun theatre you don’t have to think about. Nearly everyone in the ensemble has a few moments of exceedingly clever comedy but Brian Vaughn is given far more time and opportunity to develop a really outstanding comic performance.

Aside from perhaps the title character, the knight changes more over the course of the story than anyone else—experiencing the very jarring feelings of cognitive dissonance that a confirmed bachelor would when he finds himself falling for a woman. He repeatedly cringes in discomfort as he slowly finds himself going against his own most devoutly held beliefs about women. The repeated cringing has all kinds of opportunities to get excessive, tiresome and tedious, but somehow Vaughn manages to maintain an irrepressible kind of charisma through it all. It’s quite an accomplishment.

Sadly the script doesn’t give the rest of the cast as many opportunities to put in memorable comic performances, but this is an ensemble piece. It’s good, simple fun, but there is the nagging suspicion that the script’s unevenness between the characters is in the way of what could have been a far more wildly funny night at the theatre.

Milwaukee Rep’s production of Mirandolina runs now through February 22nd.

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