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Frank Lyons


A commedia Christmas for the streets

"La Cantata Dei Pastori"
Performed by I Giullari di Piazza, presented by Theater for the New City
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), New York, NY
Box office: http://theaterforthenewcity.net/
From December 16 to 22 at 8:00 PM.
Running time : 1 hour 30 minutes with Intermission
Reviewed by Frank Lyons December 22, 2016

Five months ago, I discovered Alessandra Belloni and I Giullari di Piazza in a show called "Tarantata: Spider Dance" at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. I found that show amazing in its concept, its direction, its daring to perform in a church and its energy. At the end of the show, I wanted to go on stage and dance with the performers. I had the opposite experience with "La Cantata Dei Pastori," because by intermission of this show, it was evident that it was misplaced indoors, in a theater. The performance belongs in the streets.

The Devil battles the Archangel Gabriel.

We are prepared for the performance by a statement saying that the play is set during Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, during which the Devil has dispatched demons to stop the birth of Jesus.   Along the way, the holy couple's escapades are entwined with the hapless commedia dell'arte character called Razzullo, a comic mischievous Neapolitan scribe who is always hungry and looking for something to eat.   The demons, in the meanwhile, conjure up tempests, dragons, and do all they can to stop the birth, but all are under the protection of the Archangel Gabriel.  The holy couple experiences funny, outrageous, and dangerous adventures before they finally reach Bethlehem and Good triumphs over Evil. All of this was written by Andrea Perrucci in the 17ht Century and is still performed every December in Italy.

At the first sight, the story looks good; it’s a classic Christmas story. But the troupe has decided to tell Mary and Joseph’s journey….without Joseph! Erasing one of the main characters but still maintaining his name on the synopsis sabotages the concept, to me. Was this a modification we should attribute to Perrucci? I don't have resources to research the question and find out. But I can tell you that when the show begins, a witch character (played by Max McGuire as a cliché of all the bad witches you saw in movies from 70’s) explains that Joseph won’t be on stage and asks if someone in the audience wants to take over the part.

Just because a comedian wears a commedia dell’ arte mask doesn't mesan that he plays in commedia dell' arte style. Clothes do not make the man. Commedia dell' arte is maybe one of the most difficult styles of performance. Giuseppe De Falco is a great singer but he definitely needs to work on this performance discipline because he is far from performing “a la commedia dell' arte.” As he is the main character, he brings all the other actors down with him.

The show must have been mounted on a shoestring, because it had the look of "poor theater." The lighting design was not perceptable and the sound was not well controlled. When the emsemble sings, it is too loud or not loud enough; when they speak, we hear breath in the microphone and Allesandra Belloni spends much time tapping her microphone, noticing that there’s a problem.

How did I stay until the end of the show? The musicians are amazing and deserve respect and applause. At the end, I wanted the CD.

Alessandra Belloni explained that this show is supposed to be perfomed in the street. I really believe that it should. This show belongs to the street, where people can watch, stay as long they want and go, and where we don’t care about a sophisticated stage picture. Most importantly, the show is free.

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