The LITE Company’s production of "The
King Stag" in Prospect Park has lots of magic. Not just
the magic of transformation from man to beast and back again,
but also the magic of music, dance, costumes and effervescent
"The King Stag" is over 200 years old, but The LITE Company, under the direction of Adam Melnick, has picked it up, brushed it off and polished it until it sparkles. Written by Carlo Gozzi, an Italian playwright determined to preserve the heritage of commedia dell’arte, the play contains much of the broad, slapstick humor and stylized characters that animate this form of comedy. It also has a timely lesson for our age of avarice and materialism.
The play opens with Eatalotti, servant to the great magician Durandarte, popping out of a box, looking around Prospect Park and pronouncing it the perfect place for her master - who has become a parrot thanks to a spell gone awry - to turn himself back into a man. The parrot (a pair of red feathers she holds in her hand) is very particular about the spot he needs and somewhat abusive, judging by Eatalotti’s reaction to words the audience doesn’t hear. With a shrug and a sigh, the servant continues her search.
"The King Stag" is a fairy tale set in the kingdom of Serendippo. King Deramo is lonely and decides he needs a wife. He sends for some of the most eligible young ladies in his kingdom - Clarice, the daughter of Tartaglia, his prime minister; Angela, the daughter of his second minister, Pantalona; and Smeraldina, the sister of Brighella, his valet.
Of the three women, only Angela is in love with the king. Clarice is in love with Leandro, Pantalona’s son and Angela’s brother. And Smeraldina is in love with Traffaldino, a birdcatcher.
To further complicate matters, Tartaglia is in love with Angela and forces his daughter to compete for the king so that Angela will remain single and he will have more influence with the monarch. Brighella urges his sister to do her best to win over Deramo so they will become important people, too. But with the aid of a magic statue, Deramo comes to see that Angela is the woman for him.
Infuriated, Tartaglia usurps Durandarte’s magic, which allows men to turn themselves into animals, and attempts to kill the king. There’s a royal hunt, mistaken identity and lots of magic to entertain the audience.
The 12 roles are played by six actors, which means considerable doubling up. But that only adds to the fun. The confusion’s all on stage. For the audience, it should all be perfectly clear. Deborah Rosen has dressed each actor so distinctively - in pink, purple and blue wigs, elaborate headdresses, capes and Renaissance-style clothing - that it’s easy to distinguish one from the other.
The actors emerge from behind a small stage with a backdrop or pop-out of a large chest placed on the stage. At one point puppets surface from the box as hunters and animals in the royal chase.
Perhaps what makes "The King Stag" so thoroughly enjoyable is that the actors seem to be so thoroughly enjoying themselves. Their voices boom. Their gestures are grand.
David Gochfeld as Tartaglia stammers and lisps; he almost drools with evil. Amalie Ceen is a sweet and naïve Angela. She clasps her hands to her breast in breathless emotion. Leigh Anderson creates a Smeraldina who is bawdy and brazen, gleefully seducing the king while her heart belongs to another.
Sharon Cinnamon is especially delicious as both Eatalotti, the wise-cracking and much abused servant, and as Pantalona, whom she plays as an Italian lady who "grew up in a small apartment with a toilet that never worked." Tanya Krohn not only switches roles, but also sexes, effortlessly turning from Clarice into Brighella. And Robert Weinstein is a sincere, if somewhat feeble-minded king.
Like all good fairy tales, "The King Stag" has a moral. Despite parents who coerce their children, lovers who forsake their vows, and friends who betray for wealth and power, in the end, true love triumphs. We learn that the greatest happiness comes from within.
And like all good fairy tales, "The King Stag" is not only about enchantment. It’s also enchanting.
The LITE Company will stage Carlo Gozzi’s "The King Stag" through Aug. 11 in Prospect Park. Sunday performances will take place in front of the steps and columns of the Tennis House, at 2 pm and 5 pm; Saturday performances will be at 3 pm at various locations around the park, including the Harmony Playground (July 20 and 27), the Music Pagoda (Aug. 3) and the Roosevelt Memorial Hill near the Long Meadow (Aug. 10). Admission is free. Rain cancellations will be announced one hour before show time on the LITE hotline. For more information, call the hotline at (212) 414-7773 or visit www.theliteco.org.