Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Rob Curran, Fri., March 28, 2003
Pantalone's War: Blunt Satire
Mother Egan's Pub, through April 5
Running Time: 45 min
Once Fox News' O'Reilly Factor did politics and French jokes while the Austin Commedia Society did laughs. Now, along comes ACS's Pantalone's War, a heavy-handed commentary on current events. The reversal will be complete when a masked O'Reilly goes on tour with a pair of lovers, a harlequin, and a maid.
The society, which previously created its own chortle-filled variations on the traditional Italian form, borrowed the latest scenario from a company in New York, which seems a long way to go for a didactic script. Author Adam Sullivan charges at politics like a lame placard composer.
Pantalone (Mike Ooi) is a weak tyrant in 16th-century Italy whose daughter Flaminia (a good, simpering Kate Meehan) has just been arrested for underage drinking. Pass the wormwood. Frankie Benavides relishes the role of Dottore, a cackling, hand-rubbing, hawk-nosed secretary of defense figure who has the hots for Flaminia. Dottore and Pantalone cook up an invasion of France to get rid of Flaminia's fiancé, the foppish poet Flavio (Paul Joiner). As Pantalone holds a news conference to justify the war, the shrill tone of the play starts to jar. He claims the war is all about greed, gold, and an "enormous tax cut" for the rich -- like much of the script, this probably sounded funnier when chanted at a protest.
Meanwhile, gay Capitano (Mike Lee) abandons his troops in Normandy to chat up Flaminia, who dresses as a boy to get into a bar. When not making points or innuendoes, Sullivan specializes in cheese comedy. Lee and Joiner battle to keep straight faces through material such as:
"You know that old saying?"
"What old saying?"
"Please don't kill me."
Homeland security is a better mark than Operation Iraqi Freedom. Pantalone's maid Columbina (the standout Genevieve Salmon) answers the door to Dottore in an early scene, and the multiple locks and bolts allow for some slapstick mime. Columbina removes the final precaution, an angry badger, just in time for Dottore to tumble over the invisible tripwire. Salmon entangles the audience in these invisible knots.
Ooi, Benavides, and Joiner have cultivated caricatures that, in the manner of the BBC's Blackadder, can induce a chuckle with nothing but the sound of their voices. This time, however, political commentary drowns out the nonsensical anarchy that the Austin Commedia Society was born to perform.