Expect to see something very familiar on the stage this week as the Classic Theatre Company presents its first production. Utilizing the style of commedia dell'Arte, Jamie Reynolds and his troupe have reworked the classic morality tale "The Emperor's New Clothes," adding a sprinkle of Sun Valley sunshine.
Commedia dell'Arte (Italian comedy) originated in the Italian Renaissance and essentially created the stock or stereotyped character that is so all-pervasive in modern entertainment. The stock characters of Arlecchino (Harlequin), Colombina, il Dottore, il Capitano, il Magnifico (Pantalone) and Pulchinella that evolved through commedia can be found in music, visual arts, dance and theatre, as themselves or as inspiration for specific characters, throughout the history of entertainment.
The physical style of commedia proved hugely popular in Renaissance Europe. "There are a lot of falls and roles; it's very much like the comedy of the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers," explained Jamey Reynolds, artistic director of the Classic Theatre Company.
"There is always a lot of choreographed violence. Slapping around, but all in good nature. Slapstick was invented by the commedia dell'Arte."
But the main audience draw was the insight into politics and human nature that was commedia's trademark. The populace loved the stock characters and their antics, much the way contemporary audiences love the Marx Brothers' movies or TV sit-coms with stock characters—such as "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Friends"—that offer a commentary to our lives.
Reynolds—who wears three hats in this production, actor, director and writer—has utilized this theatrical style to emphasize the underlying message of "Emperor," the classic vanity morality tale. But if you are expecting a faithful version of Hans Christian Anderson's story about a naked Emperor you may be surprised.
Reynolds uses the commedia characters because their stock sensibilities makes them readily identifiable to modern audiences and in his "Emperor" there are many modern signposts. Reynolds has created a satire with Sun Valley at its heart.
"Commedia dell'Arte has always had political overtones, contemporary and local commentary. That is what the traveling troupes did in the Renaissance, go from town to town performing a thin morality play and then expanding the stereotyped characters with whatever intrigues they picked up on going on within the town," explained Reynolds.
"In our play, my character, Arlecchino, and Brighella, played by Angela Super, come into this town called Ketchumo and we realize there are some problems. The Emperor Pantalone (played by Ben Schepps) is asking the weavers to make this fabulous clothing but the High Councilor, Doctore Gratiano (played by Dean Cerutti), is taking away the money to make it.
"It is a social satire, most morality plays are, but I bring it home. It takes place in a town of Ketchumo in the Valley of the Sun on the Big River of the Wood and I talk about difficulties with the mayor and debates that are going on and the politics of the city and that we all really need to get along.
"I think it's relevant because I'm new to this valley and I came in with blue jeans and T-shirts and moved into Ketchum and suddenly realized I was moving into one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. I started seeing certain ... things." He pauses, clearly uncomfortable with what he wants to say.
"So, anyway, it's a political commentary and I hope I don't offend anyone, but a lot of people come here and get distracted with driving the Mercedes SUVs and forget that we live in a very beautiful part of the country.
"It's a very, very funny play that ends with a very simple statement that maybe we need to come back to what really matters."
Reynolds Renaissance troupe is comprised of Dean Cerutti, Donna Drier, Anne Direr, Angela Super, Crystal Thurston, Nancy Auseklis, Bev McLean, Chris Campbell, Keefer Reynolds, Gabby Sisson, Ben Schepps, Megan Morrell and Wiley Ellis. For more information about Classic Theatre, call 788-7742.
A Sun Valley satire
The Classic Theater Company's production of "The Emperor's New Clothes" opens tomorrow night, Thursday, June 9, and runs until June 14.
Tickets are available at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum, Iconoclast Books in Hailey and at the door. Tickets for the gala opening are $10 each. Other performances are $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 or under.
The show begins nightly at 7 p.m., with additional matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, and Sunday, June 12.