The Great One-Man Commedia Epic is a one-man show that is so endearing that I felt like my Dad had just told me a bed-time story. Like my Dad, Matthew R. Wilson pretended to have an argument with the unruly lights and made funny noises. But unlike my Dad, he also wore masks. Nine of them.
Wilson acts in an Italian Renaissance style called Commedia dell’Arte, which is also characterized by its use of improvisation, physical comedy, and recognizable character types—young lovers, wily servants, greedy old men, and boasting heroes.
He writes, directs, choreographs and acts in the show, weaving several plots around the story of a marriage that is about to take place between Isabella and Flavio. He hilariously draws out the characters of the bride and groom-to-be, their fathers, and their respective servants, alternately depicting a total of 12 characters. Not all the characters wear masks. He depicts Isabella by fluttering a silk scarf and Flavio by brandishing a staff in addition to changing the pitch of his voice and the carriage of his body.
Wilson’s versatile script includes both a love scene and a duel between the lovers. In the duel, Flavio quotes Peracles when he asks: “O you gods! Why do you make us love your goodly gifts, and snatch them straight away?” Then he turns to the audience and says ,“I stole that from Shakespeare.”
Wilson said his favorite character is the servant Scapino, whose name comes from the Italian verb for ‘to escape,’ and you can literally see him going into character as he lowers the mask over his face. It is one of nine handcrafted by Antonio Fava, which are made of lustrous leather and feature exaggerated noses, furled brows, comically close-set eyes, and facial hair. He also wears a medieval-looking black cap tied under the chin and a white ruffed tunic and pants of beefy French terry by Jessica Wegener.
To me, Wilson’s funniest character is the British Captain Major Brigadier General Montgomery John Wells Smith, who falls endlessly down a cliff, catching at first one branch, and then the other. At each pause he gives vent to a crisis of consciousness in which he bemoans things like the poems he never got to write. Wilson wrote the sketch ten years ago and hasn’t changed it a bit, though he has revised other segments of the show, which he has performed in London, Italy, New York, and briefly at The Kennedy Center. This is the first extended run in DC.
Then there’s Signora Rosaura, who is busy cuckholding her husband, Pantalone, with the British captain as well as French and Spanish ones, each of whom has his own exploits to tell of. In preparation for their visit, Signora Rosaura and her fussy servant, Pedrolino, share a hilarious eyebrow-plucking scene.
Wilson enticed one audience member onstage to act as the mirror for Signora Rosaura and had others read passages from books while he reset the stage between acts. The whole audience was asked to make noises such as bird calls and snoring throughout the show, and readily did so.
Matthew R. Wilsom is the Founding Artistic Director of Faction of Fools Theatre Company, which was the recipient of the Helen Hayes Awards’ John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company in 2012.
Wilson is a Ph.D. candidate at University of Maryland’s Performing Arts School, and has written textbook chapters on Commedia dell’Arte, which he studied and taught in Italy for eight years before coming to Washington, DC. He likes how engaged DC audiences are.
If opening night of ‘The Great One-Man Commedia Epic is any indication, Matthew Wilson has a band of loyal followers. After all, who doesn’t love being told a story by a master storyteller?
This is a fun time in the theater you don’t want to miss!
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, with no intermission.
The Great One-Man Commedia Epic plays through December 20, 2014 at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th St., SE, (the corner of 7th and G Streets, SE), in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The show will be interpreted in American Sign Language by Dr. Lindsey D. Snyder on Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 2 PM and on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 8 PM.
Matthew R. Wilson’s website.