Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Venetian Twins
Theatre Forever
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Ragtime and The Children and Kit's reviews of Elephant & Piggie's We Are in a Play! and Waiting for Waiting for Godot and

David Beukema and Alex Barreto Hathaway
Photo by Dan Norman
Commedia dell'arte is joyfully alive and well in Theatre Forever's production of Carlo Goldoni's 1743 play The Venetian Twins. Commedia dell'arte is performance style that flourished in different forms in Italy, France and England from the 16th through the 18th century. It employs stock characters, masked actors, plot based on the most unlikely of mistaken identities, and an avalanche of ribald buffoonery. While it lacks an ounce of realism, social significance, or moral fiber, what commedia can deliver, in the right hands, is a hearty release of laughter, admiration for its uninhibited performers, and a knowing nod to the frailty of human nature. Unlike the cartoon-like persons on stage, real people are not ever so gullible, greedy, lovelorn, impulsive, deceitful, trusting, clumsy or daring—and yet, we see in the greatly exaggerated foibles of the stock characters the underlying weaknesses that tug at any of us.

Jon Ferguson has directed his company to play the exaggerated and outlandish qualities of their characters to the hilt, making it fully obvious that all is in fun, and the stereotyped characters and their misdeeds are rendered inoffensive. The production uses Ranjit Bolt's 1993 translation of Goldoni's text, but Ferguson and company have made some of their own updates with winking acknowledgements to current events and local references.

The fun begins as the audience enters the house to the strains of sexy Italiano music, prompting a desire to dance, or at least swivel the hips, and suggesting a fast ride in a Fiat convertible along the Mediterranean cost. In the center of the Southern Theater's gaping proscenium is a small, square raised platform where the entire play will be enacted. White and silver-gray drapes hang at the rear of the platform, trimmed with white, black and gray-toned pennants. It looks very spare until the actors arrive, taking seats on either side of the platform, decked in brightly colored costumes (inventively designed by Lori Opsal) that blend early renaissance with 1950s Italian chic, the pants impossibly tight, the cleavage heaving, the shoes shiny leather.

The plot—as if it matters—revolves around twin brothers, Zanetto and Tonino, separated at birth, who both wind up in Verona. Zanetto has come to consummate an arranged marriage to the beautiful Rosaura, daughter of crafty Dr. Balanzoni. As part of the bargain, Rosaura's maid Columbina has been promised in marriage to Zanetto's servant Alrecchino. Meanwhile, Tonino arrives in Verona to rendezvous with the tempestuous Beatrice, who fled from her family to join him. Dr. Balanzoni's trusted friend Pancrazio has his own designs on Rosaura, while two other suitors, Florindo and Lelio, pine for Beatrice. The brothers Zanetto and Tonino are spitting images of one another, but could not be of more different temperament. Of course, each is mistaken for the other and slapstick hilarity ensues, incorporating betrayals, duels, stolen jewels, arrests, and death by poisoning—sounds like fun, right? Believe me, fun it is—heaping barrels full! The plot has more twists than a bowl of rigatoni, but never do we worry about being denied a happy ending.

Alex Barreto Hathaway, playing the dual role of both Venetian twins, shoulders the greatest weight among the spirited cast. He is hilarious in both parts, especially mining the coarse naiveté of Zanetto, who, somehow despite having great wealth, has been ill bred and poorly educated. He speaks with a hillbilly drawl that sounds borrowed from "Hee Haw." As Tonino he is refined, well spoken (accused at one point of talking in a posh Guthrie accent), and kind to others. Hathaway combines amazing physical dexterity and an indefatigable conviction as each character to a star performance, one that stands out even among the terrific ensemble with whom he shares the stage.

Also shining in that ensemble, Amy Stockhaus pulls out all the stops as thrice-betrayed Beatrice, making despondency seem more hilarious than could ever be imagined, and David Beukema as Pancrazio, epitomizing the elder gentleman who uses the respect earned by age to conceal his lechery and greed, drawing some of the largest laughs in the process. As Rosaura, Catherine W. Noble shines as a vain but virtuous bride. Vlad Messing's barrel-chested Florindo is as touching as the commedia style allows as Beatrice's heartsick suitor Florindo. Becca Hart, as Lelio, and Allison Witham, as Dr. Balanzoni, are both women playing male roles, and both give superb performances that make a case for the fluidity of gender boundaries.

About half of the characters are performed wearing masks designed with great wit by Antonio Fava in accordance with commedia dell'arte tradition, which generally calls for male servants and masters to be masked, lovers (actual and would-be) and female servants to be unmasked. Ferguson draws on all the elements—the masks, the potential for slapstick and word play at every turn, the frank bawdiness of the story, the sound effects that punctuate the plot, and the zeal of his players—to mine a treasure of laughter from this old-horse of a story. The pacing never lets up, moving swiftly from one bit of mayhem to the next. The inclusion of two intermissions is a bit baffling, but the play quickly regains its momentum after each one.

Would The Venetian Twins work with the commedia style jettisoned in favor of a contemporary style sex farce, along the lines of Boeing Boeing? It seems unlikely. The storyline and the characters' predicaments would be hard to relate to. But the costumes, the masks, the exaggerated gestures, the word play, and the slapstick tell us that we don't have to believe a bit of this, just sit back and be ready to laugh.

The Venetian Twins plays until October 16, 2016. It is produced by Theatre Forever as an Art Share production at the Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Avenue S., Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $24.00, students with ID - $18.00, free for Art Share members. For tickets call 612 340-0155 or go to For information on Theatre Forever, go to

Writer: Carlo Goldoni; Translation by: Ranjit Bolt; Director: Jon Ferguson; Scenic Design: Erica Zaffarano; Costume Design: Lori Opsal; Masks: Antonio Fava; Vocal and Text Coaching: Suzy Kohane; Dramaturgy: Jon Peterson; Stage Manager: Audrey Rice; Assistant Director: Lauren Rae Anderson

Cast: David Beukema (Pancrazio), Jamie Fields (Porter/Tiburzio/Bargello), Becca Hart (Lelio), Alex Berreto Hathaway (Zanetto/Tonino), Robie Hayek (Brighella), Katie Kaufmann (Columbina), Vlad Messing (Florindo), Catherine W. Noble (Rosaura), Lindsey C. Samples (Tiburzio, Bargello, Guard), Neal Skoy (Alrecchino), Amy Stockhaus (Beatrice), Allison Witham (Dr. Balanzoni).

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