Comedy is hard work and the final year students of the Randolph College for the Performing Arts take it very seriously under the direction of Matthew Walker. In King Stag by Carlo Gozzi (translated by Albert Bermel and Ted Emery), playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival, the timing, character work, and gags are impeccable and fully entertaining.
Gozzi’s play blends commedia dell’arte’s stock characters and crude humour with fairy tale magic and morals. A statue acts as a lie detector and a spell helps people change bodies. The King searches for an honest wife and unsuccessfully interviews over 2,700 candidates. Of course, truth and love win against all odds.
The show’s energy is contagious and the comic invention is impressive. Think Seinfeld doing a stand-up routine as he is slipping on a banana peel and trying hard to get in between Friends’ Rachel and Ross.
The highlight for me was Danielle Soule’s Tartaglia, the King’s advisor seeking both power and a younger wife. The elderly body posture and raspy voice, the shaking fingers and the occasional stutter are perfectly timed. Sliding along a windowsill as just a head was hilarious and unbelievably realistic (as much as it could be).
Portraying stupidity in a comical but not offensive way is tricky. Charlie Reynolds and Caroline Coon do it very well. Truffaldino is strong and clumsy, lovestruck and full of macho pride. Smeraldina tries hard to play a lady for her interview with the King and then cuts her losses, desperately chasing her disgruntled lover. Brighella, her brother (Josh Werhun) is equally passionate when he encourages her to interview for the Queen’s position and when he dismisses her after being rejected.
Marie-Pier Jean’s portrayal of the unlucky King Deramo reminded me of the Sun King’s feminine but pompous appearance. When she switched roles and became Tartaglia, Jean changed in front of our eyes and convincingly reproduced Soule’s mannerisms, though a bit less sharply.
The commedia lovers are traditionally less funny. In King Stag this wasn’t the case. In Angela, the King’s chosen wife, Skye Rogers, is innocent and loving, but also smart and with a temper. Her asides while dealing with Tartaglia’s lustful impatience were very funny.
In Clarice, Georgia Klebe-McCulloch convinces us that a daughter can love even a terrible father like Tartaglia and that, for an honest person, lying is difficult. Ethan Kast’s Leandro and Russell Wellner’s Pantalone are respectively a confused lover and father, and very bad hunters to boot.
Crossing the stage is all the Old Man (Emma Mary Joyce) has to do for the audience to burst out laughing. As the King temporarily inhabiting the same body, her acting versatility shines. In the midst of the physical comedy, her pain rings true when she cries “My own dog attacked me!”
Each and every member deserves praise and I regret that my word count is limited. Director Walker’s flair for comedy made even short entrances and secondary characters memorable and funny: the varied silent laughter of the Statue (Emi Yasuo), the off-stage speech of wizard Durandarte, (Ethan Vasquez Taylor), the inept royal guards with a horn toy (Yohani Lagunas and Molly Rumball).
The costumes (Alex Amini) are lavish and fitted to the characters, as social class is very important in the plot. The use of the entire theatre supports the show’s energy. The actors are everywhere, not only on the stage, but on the walkways, the balconies, the staircases.
I also noticed the beautiful delivery of the complex lines (vocal coach Peggy Jane Hope), the ingenious set pieces and props (Anna Treusch), and the lights (Ashlyn Kusch), especially when they lit the magical statue. The music (Rogers, Ethan Vasquez TayLor, Emi Yasuo) keeps up with show’s energy and style, while Joyce’s beautiful song adds the flavour of love.
At the very end, Durandarte/Vasquez Taylor asked the audience to recommend King Stag if we liked it. I’m doing this with an open heart. It’s an excellent comedy that features emerging artists that hail from Japan and Mexico to several Canadian provinces. Show up and they’ll make you laugh!
- King Stag plays at the Annex Theatre (736 Bathurst St.).
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; audience participation.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route which requires a staff escort. Check in at the box office at least 15 minutes prior to showtime.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Friday July 5th, 8:00 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 12:30 pm
- Monday July 8th, 6:00 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 2:45 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 4:45 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 10:00 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 3:45 pm
Photo of Marie-Pier Jean and Molly Rumball by Matthew Walker