‘The Basilisk of Barnagasso’ at The George Washington University Department of Theatre and Dance

An exuberant troupe of seven players (and some ad-libbing stage hands) fabricated a screwball, madcap adventure of star-crossed lovers and lost fortunes, vagabonds, soldiers, bandits, hired thugs and a baker. In the tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, at each performance the cast must fabricate the night’s entertainment from the bare bones of a plot outline, a gaggle of stock characters and, most importantly, their wits. They proved that their wits and improvisational talents are more than up to the challenge of delighting an audience.

Jennifer Rose, Sabrina Hyman, Steven Kelly, and Tim Traversy. Photo by Christopher Evans.
Jennifer Rose, Sabrina Hyman, Steven Kelly, and Tim Traversy. Photo by Chris Evans, TRDA Promotions Office.

The zany dialogue and slapstick acrobatics are delightful, and every cast member steals a scene or two. The two damsels, maidservant Fidalma (Kaiylah Watts) and elegant Lady Fravoletta (Jennifer Rose), each are under siege by would-be suitors. Fidalma takes to her housewrecking, er, housekeeping chores with brio; she can sweep a man off his feet and right into an infirmary. Fravoletta has a trio of gallant swains dueling for her hand, but she’s bored with the buff unless they’re bringing on the buffet.

displaymediaThe guys are a mash-up of Chaplin, Groucho, Monty Python, and a Stooge or two or three. The woebegone Merchant of Naples, Pulcinela (Jordan Feiner) is generous to a fault and nearly to his own downfall. His hired-hand Alfonso (Will Low), aka the Basilisk of Barnagasso and “Bambi,” half blunders and half schemes to reclaim his former noble status and his not-so-long-lost love, Fidalma (aka Cinzia).

The contenders for Fravoletta’s hand are a hardy bunch. Don Consolvo (Tim Travery) is a blustering buffoon of a soldier whose loopy tales of derring-do (slayer of 60 or 70 souls, not to mention dispatching a cyclops with a lethal apple) remind one of another daft don named Quixote. Travery makes the most of his swashbuckler’s garb and mustachioed mask. He lacked only a stuffed Norwegian Blue parrot perched on his shoulder to be the complete package of unbridled silliness.

His fellow soldier Giangurgulo (Sabrina Hyman) makes less than an heroic entrance by stumbling and tumbling the entire way down the aisle steps to the stage. Hyman also appears as a doddering old notary with fits of very messy sneezing and makes an exit every bit as hilarious as her earlier entrance as Giangurgulo. There’s a good deal of physical comedy all around, but Travery and Hyman have a particular zest for broad gestures and pratfalls. This trio is rounded out by Covielo (Steven Kelly), proprietor of a foundering bakery and an aspiring guide (apparently the town of Naples has grown large enough that travel assistance is essential to getting around). 

The period costumes and masks designed by Sydney Moore are impressive. The masks were created by students in GW’s Introduction to Costuming class under the guidance of Tara Cariaso and are a major asset in capturing the essence of the characters. The play was written in collaboration by Director Toby Mulford, and the cast.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Will Low and Kaiylah Watts. Photo by Christopher Evans.
Will Low and Kaiylah Watts. Photo by Christopher Evans.

The Basilisk of Barnagasso has two more performance left: tonight and tomorrow 10/16 and 10/17/15 at 7:30 PM and Sunday 10/18/15@2 PM at  plays through this Sunday, at The Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre  – 800 21st Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the box office online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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Gary McMillan
Gary McMillan, MALS, MS, is an academic and research librarian specializing in psychiatry, psychology, social work, sociology, anthropology and related fields. For many years he was the webmaster for The Ushers Theatre-Goers Group. American musical theatre is a lifelong passion he indulges in at every opportunity, both live productions and the collection of cast recordings. He has a special fondness for brilliant, underdog shows with great scores and casts that just can't draw an audience on Broadway (most recently 'Big Fish' and 'The Bridges of Madison County').


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