A Company of Wayward Saints, by George Herman
Hoping to raise enough money to make their way home, an eccentric troupe of commedia dell’arte actors are commissioned to improvise the History of Man. From the Garden of Eden to the Voyage of Odysseus, these stock characters from the Italian Rennaissance manuoever to upstage one another in a battle for the spotlight.
When artistic temperaments (read: backbiting and jealous outbursts) threaten to topple the show, the company changes direction. Moving from the History of Man to the History of Everyman, actors are surprised to find themselves breaking through the hardened crusts of their characters to enact the touching and comic moments found within the human lifespan.
As they explore the four main stages of Everyman: Birth, Adolescence, Marriage, and Death, the actors soon discover that a good performance is not equal to the sum of egos onstage. As Harlequin, the company manager says, “That is the eloquent and tragic testimony of Everyman – be he actor, plumber, writer, or nobody. The miracle is – with so much pride and self-centeredness – that any of us ever work together.”
Commedia dell’arte arose as the “popular theatre” during the Italian Rennaissance and has continued to influence comedic forms in the 20th and 21st centuries. Its popularity has been partly due to the lingering truth still found in its stereotyped characters. The sour old man known as Pantalone in commedia, for instance, can be recognized as an abusive Punch (of the Punch and Judy puppet shows), a persnickety Thurston Howell the Third (from Gilligans Island), and the scheming Mr. Burns in The Simpsons.
True to the commedia tradition of appealing to the Everyman, A Company of Wayward Saints fuses the timeless with the timely. Originally developed at the University of Minnesota, the play is set in the present-day Twin Cities. With current events and local hotspots to serve as mileposts, we come to recognize the flaws and foibles we encounter daily as the enduring gadflies of human nature.
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