Add to the list of summer pleasures weekend
performances in Prospect Park by the LITE Company.
Adam Melnick, artistic director of the LITE Company, first produced Carlo Gozzi’s fantasy romance "The King Stag" in 1998. He says he’s been "interested in revisiting the production ever since." This summer his hopes will be fulfilled.
The LITE Company’s new production will be at various Prospect Park locations from July 6 through Aug. 11. "The King Stag" features a cast of six actors (a few of whom appeared in last year’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," also at Prospect Park) and several musicians playing the accordion and percussion instruments.
"We had touched on the spirit [in 1998], but it was too long," Melnick told GO Brooklyn. "We were wedded too much to the text. This time we’ve totally adapted it and made it our own."
Gozzi was a member of the Granelleschi Society, whose goal was to preserve Tuscan literature from foreign influences. Unlike his rival dramatist Carlo Goldoni, who introduced the modern Italian comedy in the style of Moliere, Gozzi continued writing in the tradition of commedia dell’arte. This form of comedy was characterized by improvisation upon the bare outline of a plot and the use of stock characters, some wearing masks. People like French writer Mme. De Stael (1766-1817) and Goethe considered Gozzi’s plays, many of which were dramatized fairy tales, charming and witty.
"The King Stag" tells the story of a king who searches for a queen, is betrayed by an evil minister and, in the end, learns the value of true love, with the help of a wizard. Using puppetry, music and a bit of magic, the LITE Company tells the story in a very physical and irreverent way.
"The original play holds royalty as being automatically good. The evil people are those who want to take over from the king," says Melnick. "We made it a modern morality play about the kingdom being a place where everyone is obsessed with being important. Gozzi had his own morality for his time. And we’re putting a modern morality on it."
Melnick says his characters are black and white, good and evil, with no subtlety or subtext.
"We’re heavy-handed, well, because it’s fun," he explains.
Indeed, if commedia dell’arte appealed to the learned and sophisticated, it also attracted the masses. The rich are foolish. The well educated are pedantic. Servants often outwit their masters. Melnick keeps commedia dell’arte’s broad strokes and highlights its subversiveness.
"’The King Stag’ is an artistic and social satire on how we look at the world but also on the media and how it represents the world," Melnick says.
Melnick also emphasizes the fantastic elements of the play with magic, spells and magicians.
"We changed it so that the whole story comes out of a box," he says. "Puppets are integrated into the action, sometimes replacing the actors, doing things the actors can’t do like magical transformations."
Like commedia dell’arte, "The King Stag" will be presented outdoors. And like commedia dell’arte, which became popular throughout Europe thanks to traveling companies, the production will be on the move - to Charleston, West Virginia in August and Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College in the fall. To facilitate these travels, the LITE Company has constructed a small stage with a platform and backdrop that can be moved from place to place.
Melnick believes that producing the play outdoors in the park "supports the energy of commedia style," as does making the show free.
"A wide range of people will see the play - people who are not necessarily interested in serious theater, people whose strongest language may not be English, adults and children."
Fortunately, the language of enchantment is universal, and, well, enchanting.
The LITE Company will stage Carlo Gozzi’s "The King Stag" July 6 through Aug. 11 in Prospect Park. Sunday performances will be in front of the steps and columns of the Tennis House at 2 and 5 pm; Saturday performances will be at 3 pm at various locations around the park, including the Music Pagoda (July 6 and Aug. 3), Harmony Playground (July 20 and 27) and the Roosevelt Memorial Hill near the Long Meadow (July 13 and Aug. 10). Admission is free. Rain cancellations will be announced an hour before show time on the LITE hotline. For directions or more information, call the hotline at (212) 414-7773 or visit www.theliteco.org.