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Lovers Quarrels: commedia dellarte style

Lively comedy moves to Washington County this weekend


by: PHOTO BY FAYRA TEETERS - Milwaukie resident Mark Friendly, left, and Tory Mitchell, right, prepare to apply slapsticks to Rian Turner in Lovers Quarrels.Mark Friendly gets to wear a funny costume, clown around and engage in slapstick — literally, he slaps somebody with a stick.

“No one is genuinely getting hurt, and it all adds to the fun,” he said of his character, Gros Rene, in Masque Alfresco’s “Lovers’ Quarrels,” which opened in Lake Oswego July 19.

Friendly, a Milwaukie resident, plays two roles in the show, which this weekend moves on to Hillsboro.

In addition to Gros Rene, a servant whom he described as a “smart aleck and wiseacre,” Friendly plays Albert, “a stiff-necked man of somewhat dubious honor.”

In a rather convoluted plot twist, Albert will be given a large sum of money if he has a son before another relative does. But when his wife gives birth to a daughter, Albert pawns off the daughter on a servant and takes the servant’s son as his own. When the son dies, Albert’s wife retrieves the daughter and dresses her up as a boy.

“Albert believes his little girl is really a boy, but he gets his comeuppance in the end,” Friendly said.

Complex comedy

Masque Alfresco has been staging commedia dell’arte plays in Clackamas and Washington County parks for 12 years, said director Fayra Teeters, who adapted “Lovers’ Quarrels,” a romantic comedy by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name Moliere.

The play is set in a society where girls can’t inherit money. To save the family fortune, a very cunning girl, Ascagne, is forced to hide everything she holds dear and masquerade as a boy — for her entire life.

“Then imagine two hot-headed swains, Eraste and Valere, both vying for the hand of Lucile, Ascagne’s sister, and both equally convinced that she loves only them. Add to this mess a pair of comical servants who mirror their masters with their own lovers’ quarrels, plus two overbearing parents who need to keep up appearances — even if it kills them — and you have a recipe for hilarity and romance as only Moliere and Masque Alfresco can deliver,” Teeters said.

“I loved it as soon as I read the synopsis, because it’s his only true romantic comedy that still contains a colorful array of commedia character types, plus a slew of social satire. Masque Alfresco always puts an updated spin on all the plays we perform, and this year we’re an equal-opportunity destroyer, with celebrity slams of Taylor Swift, Mark Sanford, Kim Kardashian, Amanda Bynes, John Boehner and Justin Bieber,” Teeters said.

16th-century slapstick

Friendly described the commedia dell’arte style as “live-action cartoon. Things are bold, dreadfully silly and designed for family consumption. Think ‘Scooby Doo’ movies.”

But Teeters noted that the dramatic style has been around for more than 600 years and is still evolving to move with modern times.

“Masque Alfresco employs slapstick to simulate beatings, resulting in a lot of noise and grimacing with no one getting hurt. It is hugely funny to the younger set. We also include costumes approximating the Renaissance, without the pain of corsets or 10-pound coats,” she said.

There are goofy exchanges of hats, actors scrambling to get somewhere but getting nowhere, and performers using garish props and pantomime.

“In our attempt to make our plays highly accessible to modern audiences, we’ve included a rap delivered by the female lead, complete with backup and posse. We also open and close with a highly energized, character-driven rendition of ‘Frere Jacques,’ ” Teeters said.

She added that audience members who come to the outdoor production need to bring blankets, lawn chairs, picnics, sunscreen and their funny bone.

Why come to see the play?

“Because it is a hoot. We take jabs at the political and social constructs of our day. There is no admission, so it is cheap entertainment and a fun outing for the family,” Friendly said.



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