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New School’s ‘Isabella’

Meet Isabella, a normal teenage girl. Like so many others, she’s weeping over a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s finest, pining after her unfaithful boyfriend. So, naturally, she decides to escape from her tower prison, disguise herself as a man, duel her lover, feed his heart to cats and dogs, puree them into a smoothie and pour it into his protesting mouth. On second thought, Isabella’s a bit strange.

Then again, there are few sensible characters in commedia dell’arte, a style of theater harking back to the Italian Renaissance. Peopled with colorful masked stock characters largely improvised, and sprinkled with song, dance and slapstick, no two performances of a commedia dell’arte show are quite alike.

Based on a scenario by commedia master Flaminio Scala, the New School of Northern Virginia’s production of "Isabella’s Jealousy" showcased the wit and creativity of its cast as well as their acting ability.

Tossing pop culture references and song and dance numbers into a madcap comedy of errors, the New School’s bawdy performance landed punchline after punchline in rapid succession.

Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood brought tremendous stage presence to the role of quirky diva Isabella, as well as her long-lost twin Fabrizio, a human embodiment of the anthem "Pants On The Ground."

Gooding-Silverwood’s clever quips, animated delivery, and expert physicality kept all eyes fixated on her. Whether stuffing her face with junk food as Isabella or grabbing her crotch and spouting Ebonics as Fabrizio, her two characters were distinct and well-developed.

As Isabella’s scorned lover, Orazio, Alec Aziz played a bemused straight man to the comedic chaos. His expressive face, cocky swagger, and warm singing voice perfectly fit his "Italian Idol" persona. Aziz’s scenes with feisty sidekick Flavio (Mauricio Cimino-Campodonico) flowed especially smoothly. Cimino-Campodonico zipped around the stage as a ball of mischievous energy, even competing in an impressive dance battle with the stunningly flexible Arlecchino (Brian Kraemer).

Though masked, Mary Kobor gave an expressive performance as wacky scientist Dottore Graziano with rapid-fire delivery and puckish enthusiasm. Sean Casey used a distinctive rigid walk, frantic arm gestures and whiny voice to bring blustering coward Capitano to life. His lackeys (Brian Kraemer and Chas Saphos) played off of his energy, Saphos’ hapless Pulomo inspiring pity and laughter as a human prop to Casey and Saphos’ schemes.

A bright set in stylized primary colors (Bianca Kieffer, Will Cosper, Sungcheol Woo and Jon Halverson) evoked a travelling caravan of Renaissance era players. The masks and makeup by Susha Stone, Jared Jacobsen, Maggie Miller and Riki Perlik enhanced the broad characters on stage. In the black box theater, actors’ words never got lost, but shouting from multiple characters at once became overwhelming. While a few scenes seemed cluttered and some actors’ energy lagged, the cast handled the improvised format with commendable dexterity.

Although an outrageous farce, "Isabella’s Jealousy" did provide several important lessons. Never spurn a compulsive overeater and never underestimate teenage actors, particularly those from the New School of Northern Virginia.