Head Trick Theatre’s production of Tonight We Improvise is 1930s improvisation modernized
Some theater strives to create the illusion of reality – to coax the audience into forgetting that they are watching actors on a stage, and immerse them in the story and emotions playing out before them.
Other shows break the fourth wall, addressing or involving the audience directly, and acknowledging the play’s a play.
Tonight we Improvise doesn’t even have a fourth wall, a fact jokingly referenced by a few of the characters. Even the first three walls don’t really exist.
This rarely performed work of “meta theater” is a modernized translation by Rebecca Maxfield, who also directs and plays the director. It’s translated from Luigi Pirandello’s 1930 Italian play, specifically with a black box theater like 95 Empire in mind. While the language used by the actors has been thoroughly modernized compared with other translations (“Fuck you” replacing “The Devil take you,” for example), the play within a play remains a product of 1930s sensibilities, exploring an abusive relationship and the scandalous pursuit of opera singing, subjects which often rely on 1930s context for their dramatic implications.
I had the doubly profound honor of watching a dress rehearsal of the show last night. Take a show that’s about putting on a show, then watch the cast and crew planning to put it on, and you feel a bit like you’re watching a Twilight Zone episode from inside theTV. What was part of the rehearsal, what was part of the rehearsal within the play, and what was part of the play itself? Even the players may not be entirely sure. Although, for a play with “improvise” in the title, a surprising amount of the action is scripted – there seems to be significant leeway for the cast to roll with the unexpected. In my viewing, one cast member was unable to make the dress rehearsal. The lighting technician/stage manager (Marissa Grier), script in hand, was drafted and pulled from the lighting board to fill the role. It felt like a part of the planned improvisation, but was, in fact, actual improvisation that felt seamless. Confused? That’s part of the fun.
Performances are uneven, but include a few stand-outs. A couple of local theater veterans (Paula Prendergast and Stuart Wilson) anchor the piece, and the three sisters – Mommina La Croce (Audrey Del Prete), Totina La Croce (Victoria Norris), and Dorina La Croce (Morgan Capodilupo) – toggle with delight between roles, displaying an infectious enthusiasm. One of the most difficult challenges an actor can face is trying to act like he or she is acting. The entire cast meets this challenge when they transition from characters-as-actors to actors-as-characters. Del Prete proves particularly adept at returning the audience to a state of suspended disbelief, and bringing to life the dramatic intensity of her character’s plight.
As much an intellectual exercise as a theatrical production, this short (less than 90 minutes) play is a departure for the typical theater-goer and an interesting conversation piece for those who want to consider what it means to act, to direct, to stage a theatrical experience, or to improvise.
You can read more about Tonight We Improvise and the production company, Head Trick Theatre, at AS220: http://www.as220.org/residence95-presents-head-trick-theatres-tonight-we-improvise
Friday, March 7 @ 8pm
Saturday, March 8 @ 2pm + 8pm
Sunday, March 9 @ 2pm
CAST and CREW:
Mommina La Croce: Audrey Del Prete
Rico Verri: Derek Colantuono
Mrs. Ignazia La Croce: Paula Prendergast
Mr. Palmiro La Croce: Stuart Wilson
Totina La Croce: Victoria Norris
Dorina La Croce: Morgan Capodilupo
Mangini: Dave Weeks
A Cabaret Singer: Pu-Ning Chiang
Director: Rebecca Adrian Maxfield
Stage Manager: Marissa Grier
Photo Credits: Ryan Walsh