The Independent EyeAmazed

Created from scenarios in commedia dell’arte tradition, this fantasy assembles a menagerie of contemporary characters on the enchanted island of their wildest dreams: young lovers so well disguised they can’t recognize each other, a starving con artist, a would-be Napoleon, a lustful professor, suburbanites with dreams of Florida real estate, and madwomen.

Written & directed by Conrad Bishop, based on improvisations by the acting ensemble of Theatre X. Produced by Theatre X (Milwaukee, WI), 1974, under the title Comedying.
Two acts, 6m/4f; unit set.

Adapted for production by The Independent Eye, premiering April 12, 1988 at Eye Theatre Works (Lancaster, PA), directed by Pat Lemay. 16 performances.
Music by Don Kinnier
Set by Richard Whitson
Costumes by Cynthia Haynes

At the beginning of Amazed, a character named Arlecchino turns to the audience and says, “You won’t like this if you’re intelligent.”

Well, a lot of people who attend this latest production by the folks at the Independent Eye are going to have to renounce their IQ’s and join the Dumb Club because Amazed is an extremely enjoyable piece of theater.

Based on the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition, a form of semi-improvised comedy, Amazed, written by Conrad and Linda Bishop, is more than two hours of sheer lunacy.

To call it madcap doesn’t even begin to do the play justice. The 10 members of this ensemble cast spout so many insane lines and are forced into so many physical contortions that the result is dizzying. The eye and the ear can barely keep pace with the frenetic action that unfolds onstage.

But the ear especially should always be alert as the dialogue often reaches lyrical heights. Despite the slapstick nature of most of what goes on, Amazed is a beautifully written play. A good point of comparison might be the supreme eloquence of Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest modern practitioners of commedia dell’arte. Along with the huge laughs that crop up throughout the play, there are also some extremely touching moments that turn up at the most unexpected times. . . . All are terrific. All deserve praise. Amazed is an amazing piece of theater.

—John Drybred, Lancaster Intelligencer Journal

Amazed is hardly a strong enough word to describe the reaction to the play of the same name now on stage at The Independent Eye in Lancaster.

Appealing? Yes. Conventional? No. It’s not meant to be. It serves more as a grand exercise in drama for each cast member. Terri Mastrobuono as Corren has a chance to show her superb mime skills. Camilla Schade as Elinda goes through her thrilling transmogrifications with all the grace of a ballerina. Steve Schwilk as the Professor impersonates a duck in such a way that Donald himself might have to look to his laurels.

Don’t come to Amazed for the plot—it’s thin and has been used by everyone from Shakespeare to Rossini. Don’t come for anything but sheer enjoyment. And this they have achieved. They have attempted with this ancient art form to astonish and amaze, and an audience in frequent gales of laugher told them they had succeeded.

—Margo Atwood, York Daily Record

Taking license from improvisational commedia dell’arte, the Independent Eye has come up with an antic exercise in which actors are licensed to amaze.

Forget the plot—a fablesque mutterance about self-dicsovery and interpersonal relationships. Just sit back and wallow in the mania generated by zany exhibitionists whom Pat Lemay might well have directed with whip and chair.

Amazed is a bit much for my personal taste, more gamesmanship than theater. But I bow to the form for its value to the performing artists themselves. Such opportunities are rare in the realm of paying audiences. And the Eye is lucky to have the kind of patrons—and co-producers—who underwrite such unconventional excursions.

The form is essentially historic, but the lunacy is local, constantly on the verge of excess and occasionally well beyond the pale as people turn into ducks, jungle cats, apes and birds; men and women cross-dress, and formidable, adult ’babies’ are born by mere suggestion.

—Jim Ruth, Lancaster Sunday News

Called Comedying, and conceived as a takeoff on the plots and forms of the commedia dell’arte of old, it contains howling, robust, wordly, wordy and mad mad comedy. And yet it is rippled throughout with bittersweet modern commentary.

This is very adult humor, and yet very traditional in slapstick, energy and such basic themes as hunger and love. So marvelously disarming is the best of its entertainment and enterprise that the extra length of it all fades in retrospect. And the troupe is fortunate that several inventive surprises are worth rather wandering waits.

Lines that smack of Moliere, Jean Giraudoux and Joan Rivers tumble out side by side. Father Pantalone (in an interesting portrayal by John Groth) starts out as a walking encyclopedia and ends up as a waddling duck. The local bovine couple (Diane Johnson, who salvages several awkward moments, and John Kishline, who doesn’t) lust after every stray body that crosses their paths.

Young lovers Flora Coker and John Schneider play out their tenderest scene unknowingly, while he is dressed as a girl and she as a boy, and when they are united in the finale for a kiss, they wind up stuck together like two plumber’s helpers.

The show has a tendency to excess, and contains ideas that do not yet work. It will also not be to everyone’s taste. But most people willing to go along with experimentation will roll in the aisles so often that this show ought to be subsidized by a dry cleaning firm.

—Dominique Paul Noth, The Milwaukee Journal

The imagination of the Theatre X troupe seems to begin where everyone else’s stops. At its best, it is wonderfully fresh and incisive.

The creative insight and splendidly controlled freedom have been packaged in a typically nonsensical commedia dell’arte plot of enchantments, mistaken identities and the eventual victory of love.

Comedying is the first attempt of Theatre X to create a sustained stage offering with its system of communal direction.

The piece taken in its entirety has some grievous sections of dullness where plot needs must be served and where improvisations either fail to work or take too long to reach their illuminating conclusions. Happily, these sections are few. Where Comedying forgets its dramatic pretensions and lets its imagination hang out it is an exciting treat.

Opening night attracted an overflow audience. The 9 p.m. curtains throughout the rest of the run should do the same.

—Jay Joslyn, The Milwaukee Sentinel