When a historic form of comedic theater is reinterpreted for a modern setting, there is always potential for greatness. In the case of “Commedia dell’Artichoke,” old comedy finds new home, complete with pizza from Artichoke Basille’s.
Frances Black Projects, in association with Collaborative Arts Project 21, exceeded expectations with their latest production of “Commedia dell’Artichoke.” The play has successfully been running for over five months and just recently moved to the Gene Frankel Theater for an additional four weeks.
“Artichoke” riffs on the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, which translates to “comedy of craft.” This craft was traditionally done with humorous masks and a strict set of characters. The comedy then used both scripted and improvised elements to mock officials from the nearest town. Frances Black, Carter Gill and Tommy Russell have created their own commedia. It is set in 2016 New York City, and it is inarguably one of the most profanely entertaining plays on this side of the Hudson.
The play follows Pulcinella, a pot-bellied pizza maker who owns his own shop. He has toiled away to achieve the American dream of owning his own small business in New York City. Unfortunately, Capitana, Pulcinella’s landlord and the owner of a seriously protruding nose, has bigger dreams. Other characters seamlessly weave themselves into the thread of the plot as Pulcinella’s rent is raised to “one dollar more than he can afford,” and everyone’s favorite singing Italian struggles desperately to come up with the money and save his shop.
The plot itself is just believable enough to carry the play through, and the jokes, singing and dancing take the whole production to another level. The audience has no choice but to laugh at the tomfoolery and high jinks on stage, dissolving the fourth wall. Every lighting cue and line was pulled off seamlessly, down to the last second of comedic pauses. Forget any feelings that vulgar comedy has been irreparably ruined by the likes of certain actors; it’s safe to laugh at this production without feeling like one’s maturity has been reduced to that of a 13-year-old.
Even in the midst of the most outrageous jokes, Black’s writing stays flawlessly articulate and biting. Its improvised portions allow the entire show to keep up with the news and culture of the day, meaning fans of Adele will either love or hate bits of the music. The music itself, for all its shocking bellows and purposely dog-like moans, is incredibly well composed, and the actors each possess incredible singing talent.
“Commedia dell’Artichoke” is the perfect show to bring your friends, your roommates and even your old roommates you purposefully lost touch with. Tell them every ticket comes with free pizza courtesy of Artichoke Basille’s. Tell them they can un-ironically laugh at every joke in the play.
“Commedia dell Artichoke” is playing at the Gene Frankel Theater on 24 Bond St. until Feb. 6.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 25th print edition. Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]