Entertainment

A truly riveting comedy

The U of C drama department tackles classic commedia dell'arte

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For those looking for some serious drama, you won't find it in The Liar. The play, first performed in 1750 in Italy, is full of levity.

Director Mike Griffin, a graduate student at the University of Calgary, believes people deserve a comedy.

"You get to sit back and enjoy it," says Griffin. "It's an experience. It's very physical. From the moment you arrive at the theatre there will be entertainment."

Griffin even advises audience members to arrive 15 minutes early in order to not miss the acts before the play and during the intermission -- all a part of the commedia dell'arte style of theatre. Originating in Italy, commedia uses stock characters that the actors then improvise situations and dialogue for. Although The Liar is not traditional commedia because it is scripted, it still uses the traditional element of masks.

"I love masks, obviously, and I feel that for contemporary audience things like mask work is unique. You don't go to the theatre every week and see a mask performance."

In the play, all the characters are masked except for two lovers who traditionally remain revealed.

Although Griffin does stay true to the original Liar, it is important to note that Carlo Goldoni, the playwright, was revered for pushing the limits of the commedia genre with his inventive takes on the traditional characters.

He notes this evolution has been adapted worldwide for centuries. Shakespeare referenced commedia in his plays and even modern sitcoms use stock characters.

"What we've done is played with the evolution from commedia and this continuum with where this play lives," says Griffin.

After deciding to do a commedia production, Griffin spent a month in Italy this summer immersing himself in the art. He acknowledges that the play would not be what it is without living "within the world" of commedia. However, he does sing praises about the local actors who have embodied the work at a remarkable pace and with outstanding talent.

"[The work is] tough to do," notes Griffin. "This kind of work takes a lot of time to fully master in your body and it takes a lot of time to fully understand how it works."

He is proud of his actors and their collective collaboration. Their sense of the play has been integral to Griffin's teaching and drives the play forward. It has been a shared process to bring life to the world of The Liar and the life of Goldoni.

"I would love to just sit down and chat with him," laughs Mike Griffin as he relates the similarities between the events in The Liar and events from Goldoni's memoirs -- similarities like the web of lies that are weaved in order to entertain two ladies at once, only to find that the lies catch up to you.

Audiences are bound to enjoy themselves watching this play of lies and coincidences that are treated in a style of theatre that is not commonly seen in Calgary. Just remember to arrive early as to not miss any of the "crazy action."

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