Arlecchino’s Odyssey redefines theater

All you need are words and gestures.

By Ana Klimchynskaya

Arlecchino’s Odyssey successfully blends minimalism and storytelling into an incredibly unique theater experience. This is characteristic of Filament Theatre, which has a knack for creating innovative stagings and engaging experiences, and this performance is more than up to their usual standards. It follows closely on the heels of their last adaptation, Choose Thine Own Adventure, and has everything that made that play a wonderful experience: humor, audience interaction, and an interesting locale. Most of all, it was a unique performance.

The performance took place at the Den Theatre, which isn’t actually a theater. Even in a city like Chicago where some of the best performance venues are in small, out-of-the-way nooks and crannies, this was a hidden location. It’s really a spacious apartment rented out by the owner to theater groups, and its cozy couches and soft lighting create a welcoming atmosphere. The auditorium itself is a curtained-off section with several rows of chairs, allowing for the intimate experience that is such an essential part of this performance.

The play itself is a short, one-man show, though Mary Spearen’s musical accompaniment was nearly a character all its own. The only character is Arlecchino (Omen Sade), a masked figure based on Harlequin, the comic figure of the commedia dell’arte. Harlequin is typically a deceptive, meddlesome servant who manages to mess everything up yet also be sympathetic. This short play captures the essence of his character perfectly: While he’s funny, clumsy, and silly, there’s a very human touch to his character. The brief play tells of his adventures as he travels through Europe, providing commentary on cultural stereotypes, as well as a whole slew of comedic imitations of philosophers. Sade’s impersonation of Sartre, complete with a French accent, is particularly unforgettable. More importantly, however, Harlequin’s emotions are felt through Sade as he expresses sadness, fear, and curiosity and seeks reassurance from the audience.

The performance, is memorable not only for its content but also for its union with form. Historically, commedia dell’arte is known for its physicality. Characters expressed themselves through movements and gestures, and Harlequin in particular is known for agility and movement. Omen Sade perfectly embodies the physicality and physical comedy of this character; he tells the story with his body as much as he does with his words. However, in an interesting departure from commedia tradition, he eschews traditional props and sets and even makes them seem superfluous as he and Mary Spearen create setting and atmosphere by using sound and mime. Through an innovative use of everyday objects (as well as a guitar) May provides the sound effects to set the scene, while Omen provides the actions that complete it; he is so expressive that his reactions make a complete cast unnecessary. He is a play in himself.

As usual, Filament Theatre has managed to create a performance that makes us question the nature of theater. Last time, their play involved the audience yelling at the stage in a bar; this time, they’re questioning what’s necessary for a play to be a play. Perhaps all that’s required is the ability to create an illusion and to evoke the imagination. All you need are words and gestures.