Il Campiello at Open Book
Ten Thousand Things Theater continues its remarkable run with Il Campiello, Steven Epp's adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's 18th-century comedy about the earthy denizens of a lower-class corner of Venice. A spot-on cast teams with director Michelle Hensley to produce a show that is at turns ribald, warm, and sad—just like real life.
The action takes place in a small Italian square during the final days of Carnival. For the residents, the celebration is something that others get to enjoy. Meanwhile, they toil as usual or, in the case of three young women, dream of being married or at least being able to escape the confines of their own homes. Into this mad and raucous world comes the Cavalier, a tourist visiting for the celebration. He is entranced by these relationships and develops a distant love of Gasparina, one of the unwed girls in the square.
Worries about money aren't far from any of the characters. For the young women to be married, they need to provide some kind of dowry, even if it's just a few coins, pots and pans, or a mattress. The young men are also trying to make their own way in the world, even a youngster like Zorzetto, still a couple of years from marrying age. He runs games for the folks in the square and is thrilled to use his earnings for a sandwich and a bit to save in his shoe.
That contrasts with the Cavalier, who has more money than the square has ever seen, but he's alone in this loud and crazy world. The character (brought to life beautifully by Randy Reyes) is definitely an outsider, from his halting, not exactly perfect talks, to his odd gestures of friendship, to a certain aloofness from the rough villagers of the square, who trade insults as often as greetings.
The fun is infectious, whether it is playing innocent street games (one involves finding pennies in lumps of dough) or the older women sharing the day's gossip. There are darker moments as well, as the confines of society weigh heavily on the characters. Our young heroines don't have much of an escape as they go from being prisoners of their mothers' homes to being bonded with their men.
Epp's script brings this out in both playful and serious ways. The dialogue is peppered with jokes, asides, and insults, but a modern eye is also working here. This isn't a "poor people lead fuller lives than the rich" piece. It's far more nuanced, seeing the light and dark of the situation.
What makes it all truly shine is the excellent cast. Along with Reyes, the cast is packed with talented performers from top to bottom. There's Sarah Agnew as Pasqua, one of the older ladies, gossiping at every turn and bringing a delightful physicality to the role. The same is true for Christina Clark (the Cavalier's object of attention, Gasparina), and Nathan Keepers, playing Anzoletto, a sort of 18th-century Venetian Jersey Shore character in waiting, along with the occasional quick change into Fabrizio, Gasparina's crusty old uncle. Anzoletto is a complex case. He's hotheaded and passionate, letting his anger get the best of him at several turns. Keepers never shies away from these moments, keeping all of the heat, even when it shows his character in a dark light.
The nine-actor company beautifully builds its limited world, using—as usual for Ten Thousand Things—only the most basic sets to tell the story. The company's familiar in-the-round seating creates a perfect tiny square, while wooden scaffolding makes up the various homes of the characters. They have only one corner where they can escape, and that, tellingly, is where the men mainly enter and exit. The women are almost entirely tied to their homes.
So as the cast heads off following a twin wedding, there is a bittersweet tang in all that has proceeded. Sure, fortunes have been regained and something like love has been found, but once the festival ends, you know that all will return to what it was, full of joy, laughter, pain, and arguments. Our characters love life, but you can't fail to notice that it is nearly impossible for them to escape from the tiny confines of their square.
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