Commedia dell’Arte is a living theatre language. In Paolozzapedia, Adam Paolozza’s new meditation upon his heritage & influences, a Bad New Days Production with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille, that opened tonight at TPM, we get one of the freshest & most vivid uses of the CdA vocabulary I can ever recall. If you study CdA one reads textbooks full of pictures & characters & comic routines. In the theatre it can lead one into something so respectful as to suggest a museum or a mausoleum: which is ironic for a medium that existed for centuries without benefit of books or texts but rather in a realm of improvisation. Tonight it felt brand new.
What I love about CdA at its best is the escape from text into something spontaneously physical and instantaneous in the moment. But it doesn’t have to be funny, it doesn’t have to be comical at all. There’s wonderful poignancy in the masked figures, astonishing moments of universality: as we experienced tonight.
The title is very ironic, I think. There is no book, no “Paolozzapedia” full of the aspects of what it is to be a Paolozza, and certainly not in a show that was so spare and clean. Yes we did explore Adam’s family background, his Italian culture via Oshawa. In a month where I’ve seen the profoundly dysfunctional family dynamics of Elektra and Hamlet it’s refreshing to be in a place of love. Adam creates several moments of great beauty without straining a muscle, and without making us strain ourselves either.
We could smell pasta sauce cooking, a simple visceral effect to suggest Italian culture.
Adam shares the stage with Maddie Bautista, Eduardo Dimartino, Christina Serra & Matt Smith, who are at times masked, at times wielding puppets of various sizes. Co-directed by Kari Pederson, we are in a very theatrical realm, stories being told or hinted at. Sometimes nothing more than a gesture was needed, filling the space & holding our attention.
Adam’s world straddles two places as he told us. One is the old world, Naples Italy where his family originated, a place of influence and a natural connection to the CdA, the Pulcinella masques we see on the performers.
And the other is Oshawa, where he grew up, where his family lives now. We’re poised in the space between the two, between long ago and now, between Europe and suburban Ontario, a cultural blend that’s quintessentially Canadian, a hyphenated hybrid.
We’re taken on an exploration of Adam’s cultural background. We discover that part of his inspiration came from a stroke his father suffered, the intimations of mortality.
I am impressed by the way some performers can effortlessly capture our attention. Adam has the most relaxed and self-assured way onstage, without requiring a big complex story. I am reminded of some of the best comedy I’ve seen, which is made from the most mundane & concrete aspects of life, not profundities or abstractions. And in the moments confronting the little nothings, transcendence blindsides you with something deep. The hardest thing is to make something of nothing, and often that’s exactly what we’re doing, the Paolozzapedia being a book of little moments & minutiae, not big issues. It’s a huge relief to be in such a simple place.
Paolozzapedia continues at Theatre Passe Muraille until March 3rd. I recommend that you see it while you can.