Trust the masks

Drawing from a well that’s 500 years old and who knows how deep takes nerve. Yet that’s what Laughing Stock attempts with this contemporary take on commedia dell’arte. You could say that theater, and, by extension, TV and movies, have never really escaped the archetypes and tropes set in Italy so long ago, but to put on the old masks and employ the exaggerated gestures is a lot more than a nod to the past. So what does this company bring to the well-worn scenario of family, friends, and servants plotting a patriarch’s demise to make off with his riches? Well, there’s that ponderous subtitle and a lot of attendant dialogue about who should and should not inherit or prosper after a wealthy person’s passing. 

Over My Dead Body; Or, How to Distribute Generational WealthThrough 12/4: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Athenaeum Center for Thought & Culture, 2936 N. Southport,, pay what you can ($25 suggested donation)

I have no doubt of the company’s earnestness. They devised their play to comment on a real-life societal problem in 2022. But their words bog down a production which is at its best in wordless moments. Director Antonio Fava has brought not only decades of experience from the old country but also his beautiful handmade leather masks. It’s remarkable how evocative a figure crossing a mostly bare stage with one of these elemental expressions can be. That medieval magic still works when it’s not interrupted by blather and explanation. Those fixed grimaces, squints, and caterwauls convey more than a mountain of words. I wish Laughing Stock trusted the masks to do more of the work they were designed to do.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art

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