Philadelphia based OMBELICO Mask Ensemble is presenting the D.C. Premiere of Dead Man’s Mambo as part of the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival. Dead Man’s Mambo is a unique mix of highly structured scenario, wildly improvised performance and live music. Written and conceived by OME Co-Artistic Directors John Bellomo and Brendon Gawel, performed by Bellomo, directed by Gawel and with live music composed and performed by Andrew Clotworthy.
Part Commedia dell’Arte part clown; Dead Man’s Mambo is a solo show with one actor performing 11 characters in 85 hilarious minutes. Through traditional commedia masks, physical story telling, and red nose clown techniques, the audience is introduced to a group of timeless human archetypes.
Several of the comic bits, or lazzi, that show up in Dead Man’s Mambo, were conceived by co-creator John Bellomo when he was studying commedia dell’arte in Italy in 2006. “We were studying a solo form of commedia that was popularized by famed renaissance actor Giovanni Gabrielli. The assignment was to perform 10 characters in 10 minutes and tell a full commedia story.” Several years later, Gawel asked Bellomo to become Co-Artistic Director of OMBELICO Mask Ensemble and a full-length version of the “Gabrielliana” was a project they both decided on. “We [Gawel and Bellomo] are big fans of Bill Irwin,” says Gawel. “When we were brainstorming about Dead Man’s Mambo, we watched Regard of Flight, and commented on how we wished we could have a live musician.”
That’s when Andrew Clotworthy was recruited. Clotworthy, a former student of Bellomo’s and an accomplished singer/song writer, had worked with OME before as an actor and musician, so he was the obvious choice. “He’s a very talented kid,” says Bellomo. “I hate him. He gets so many accolades after the show from audience members and the only direction he got from Brendon was ‘don’t do anything.’ He literally does nothing while I’m running around. But all kidding aside, I can’t imagine doing the show without him. He adds a lot to the production and audiences do love him.”
The premise of the show is that an ensemble of actors gets horribly lost and cannot get to the performance, leaving just the stage manager and a mute musician to keep the paying audience in their seats. The character of the stage manger is put to the daunting task of performing Flaminio Scala’s 1611 scenario, He Who Was Believed Dead. This scenario features the stock characters of the young lovers, the rich old men, the hapless servants and the Capitano. It runs the gambit of basic human experiences: love and loss, joy and sorrow, greed, hate, and redemption. All the while, the mute musician has the task of providing the stranded stage manger with a live soundtrack, using a wide variety of musical instruments.
Dead Man’s Mambo had its world premier in Philadelphia under the working title L’UOMO MORTO! in 2010. Since then, the title has changed to the more pronounceable Dead Man’s Mambo and has performed at the Centre Theatre in Norristown, PA, as part of the Independent Voices Festival, and most recently in Frederick, MD, as part of the season of the Maryland Shakespeare Festival.
Here’s what DCMTA reviewer Mike Spain said about that production, “Dead Man’s Mambo is perfect if you are looking for a theatre experience which is a little different yet very entertaining. It’s a fast-paced production. The show will make you laugh and you will leave happy.”
Fort Fringe – Redrum – 612 L Street, NW, in Washington, DC.
Dead Man’s Mambo’s Capital Fringe show page.
OMBELICO Mask Ensemble website.
John Bellomo is Co-Artistic Director of OMBELICO Mask Ensemble, Artistic Director of Maryland Shakespeare Festival and has performed commedia dell’arte in the U.S. Poland, Switzerland, and Italy.