Nearly everyone knows the story of Beauty and the Beast, but I would be willing to bet that you’ve never seen it quite like this. Commedia dell’Arte, a particular form of theatre developed in Italy, brings a new spin to the classic story in CATCO is Kids’ most recent production, put on in association with Columbus State Community College. Beauty and the Beast: Isabella e la Bestia introduces the basics of this form of theatre to young audiences and also gives them a different version of the story to enjoy.
Set in Venice, Italy, the story opens with several of the characters—Arlecchino and the three Zannis—explaining how the character of Pantalone (who has a beautiful daughter) is very frugal and does not like to spend his money. We quickly find out that Leandro, who is lovesick but rather poor, has fallen for Pantalone’s daughter, Isabella. Arlecchino comes up with a conniving plan to get Leandro and Isabella together, and also to get some money out of Pantalone for his own use, but in this story nothing ever goes quite right.
The humor is definitely one that children can appreciate. There’s a lot of physical antics—characters moving in a silly fashion or running into each other—as well as a couple of characters that are clearly idiotic or just plain annoying (but in a good way). On the flip side, the humor is also a kind that can be appreciated by adults, particularly in the form of one character who often does not say what he thinks he is saying (his vocabulary might go over the youngest children’s heads). The ridiculousness of the show is definitely one that makes the show fun to watch.
As usual, a brilliant cast has been assembled, particularly since this art form does not seem like one that is easy to perform. In the role of Arlecchino, Jeff Horst does a great job at playing the evil genius-type character that has a bit of trouble keeping everything around him going as it should. Terrell Saviour is most certainly hilarious, playing Il Capitano whose bark is definitely worse than his bite. Ben Sostrom is one of the most ridiculous on the stage, and likely got the most laughs, in the role of Il Datore, the character that pretends to be smart but is usually incorrect and often irritating to the other characters. As the two lovebirds, Isabella and Leandro respectively, Joanna Van Sickle and Cody Shope stand out from the other characters in several ways, but also in their humor coming from how obsessed the characters are with each other and both actors do a great job showing this. As Pantalone, Bill Darby wonderfully portrays the show’s resident stickler, and is also very entertaining and engaging while explaining the art form before the start of the show. And finally, as the three Zannis, Ayla Stirnaman, Jordan Phillips, and Elise Randall are the masters of physical comedy and also get quite a bit of laughs for their trouble.
All in all, I found Beauty and the Beast: Isabella e la Bestia to be an incredibly entertaining experience. It’s a change from the normal story, but the humor makes for a great show that I think any ages would enjoy. The show will be running through this Sunday (January 27).