Ombelico Mask Ensemble Saves the Show, and RUN GRUNT SING Triumphs!


Visiting Italian actor Renato Arcuri dons the mask of Il Dottore in Ombelico Mask Ensemble’s RUN GRUNT SING. (Photo credit: Ed Pokropski)

It’s a sad commentary on Philadelphia when a boisterous horde of exhibitionists on bicycles can bring a free outdoor Fringe event to a screeching halt. Such was the case during Sunday evening’s disrupted open-air performance of RUN GRUNT SING by Ombelico Mask Ensemble. But in the best tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, wit triumphed over idiocy, as the troupe’s clever improvisations made the naked peddlers the butt of their humor, and finished the show with aplomb, to the delight of the all-ages audience.

Throughout the disturbance, the well-trained actors stayed true to their stock characters. Francesca Cartaginese, who lithely fluttered about the stage as the beautiful young Innamorata Carmelina, spontaneously shielded her innocent eyes from the ungainly sight. Renato Arcuri, playing the pedantic know-it-all Il Dottore, quipped: “I thought that was against the law!” [It is. Odd that the Philadelphia Police Department, which continuously chooses to ignore the bikers’ egregious violations, doesn’t possess the same level of legal knowledge as the guest artist from Italy.] And John Bellomo, as the swaggering braggadocio Il Capitano, skillfully used the serendipitous distraction to make his escape from the murderous threats of his romantic rival, by pointing to the street and shouting, “Look, naked bikers!” As the self-absorbed and hopelessly infatuated lover BrucePierce, Andrew Clotworthy snapped his neck in their direction, allowing Il Capitano to sneak away, remaining faithful to the classic scenario. This was Commedia at its very finest!

Also outstanding in the cast was Kevin Bergen as Mr. Itchypants, a hilariously Americanized version of the elderly miser Pantalone. His decrepit movements and cantankerous demeanor were spot-on, as he extemporaneously disciplined the unruly children who attended the performance, and briefly removed his mask to surprise the audience with his own much younger face. And Meg Lemieur as Chester captured the stylized movements and dimwitted confusion of the Servant (historically named Zanni—the source of our English word zany), whose misunderstanding of her master’s exaggerated Italian accent provided an amusing leitmotiv and epilogue to the show.

Live music by Andrew Nelson and Ben Diamond, summery costumes by Amy Chmielewski, traditional masks and a makeshift set by Brendon Gawel, and the actors’ Italian asides, faux French accents, and inspired interactions with the audience added to the general merriment. If you prefer to spend your free time wisely, by supporting rather than disrupting theater in Philadelphia, be sure to catch one of OME’s ever-changing presentations of RUN GRUNT SING! Tickets are not required for this 60-minute outdoor production, but don’t forget to bring a blanket for comfortable lawn seating.

September 2-11, 2011
Ombelico Mask Ensemble
Liberty Lands Park
913-961 North 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123

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