Monday, April 24, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 926: Carolyn Balducci



Carolyn Balducci (left) with actress Karin de la Penha (right).  Photo by Carlotta Brentan 


Carolyn Balducci

Hometown: Pelham, NY (Westchester)

Current Town: Montauk, NY

Q:  Tell me about Giovanni The Fearless:

A:  Synopsis - Giovanni the Fearless is a family-friendly commedia dell'arte folk opera about actors, young lovers ... and a couple of ghosts. When Giovanni encounters the Bombasto Family commedia troupe, he becomes enchanted with the star of the show, the beautiful Colombina. Tricked by Colombina's overprotective father and siblings into believing that a treasure lies hidden in a haunted castle, Giovanni deals with a fake ghost (the Bombasto's giant puppet) then confronts an actual ghost. In the end, he discovers that the real treasure is his love for Colombina. Projections, clowning, tumbling, puppetry, special effects, and onstage musicians enhance this romantic musical comedy.

Background - The original tale, Giovannin' Senzapaura, is widely dispersed in Italy and I knew about it for many years. The story involves actions that I knew would be more fun to see and hear than to read about. So it began as a play for actors and puppets.

In doing scholarly research, I found that the plot, which involves Giovanni's encounter with a ghost and re-unification of its dismembered body parts, derives from the mythology of Isis and Osiris. The ISIS cult was once a pervasive religious persuasion in Italy especially Magna Greca, eg the liquor Strega named after the wican underground which is what the oppressed Isis cult became. My research and life experience also lead to an understanding of the roots of the Italian commedia dell'arte tradition. In writing the early drafts of Giovanni the Fearless, I realized that there were only three characters and all were male. Since Giovanni is a young man, it seemed logical that there would be a young woman in the story and in the commedia there is always a Pantalone who runs interference with his daughter's love interests. Giovanni is fearless, but in the course of the play, he finds out, as many of us do, that the most profound fear is that harm will befall a loved one. In a twist, when Giovanni thinks he's doomed, it is timid Colombina who rescues him.

The play is set in Italy in the early 20th century - decades when urbanization, natural disasters, mass immigration and inventions like the automobile, cinema and radio were reducing the popularity of commedia troupes. Giovanni (John) or Giovannino (Johnny) is a universal folk 'type' with brethren in all European popular cultures-- John, Ivan, Sean, Ian, Jack even Johnny Appleseed - are all wanderers. So whether or not our title character is heading to an Italian city or planning to sail to North or South America, he's an immigrant on the road to adventure.

Good theater always addresses universal experiences that are relevant to present day issues, At the same time, a play is a combination of fantasy and personal sensibilities and experiences. Beneath the surface, even though Giovanni the Fearless is meant to be entertaining and fun, to quote the lyrics in one of our songs, The Loving Tree, "…its roots go deep, deep down in the earth and under the Seven Seas."

Written in the 1990s, performed at the University of Michigan in 1997 - full cast, student-faculty production. Music was improvised by a young composer to suit the vocal strengths of the cast. (This show was awarded additional funding from Michigan Council for the Arts and UM's Year of the Arts.)

I met Mira J. Spektor, the composer of this show, in 2005 and she set my lyrics to music - 17 songs. In 2010 a cast of opera singers did a concert reading at the Dramatists' Guild. We were limited to one hour, so I adapted the script to include a narrator to convey the action and streamlined the dialogue. We did this version three more times - a directed reading in the Hamptons and at the Havoc Theatre in the Abingdon Theatre Complex in 2011; and a semi-staged directed reading at the Nimoy/Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space in 2012. Some of the songs have been sung in concerts. Last winter, I restored the full-length version which provided more clowning and sight gags, putting back a some of the minor characters and giving a stronger sense of the characters' motivations.

Both the composer and I feel that this work's combination of magical elements with theatrical artifice and improvisational comedy invokes the old-fashioned ideal of romantic love. Thus we believe it is best suited to the operatic form. We also feel that an opera that appeals to family audiences might provide kids with an entertaining introduction to classical opera.

Anyway, one more comment…

We are calling it a 'folk opera' ...but in current terminology it could be considered a cross-over -- au currant.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  FIRESTONE- Maestro Pirandello as recalled by Miss Marta Abba. In the last ten years of Pirandello's life, Abba worked very closely with him. There were readings of the work-in-progress last year in New York. One had a few actors representing different people in the playwright's life; the second was a short version, a solo at Cherry Lane, (performed by Karin de la Penha, who was stupendous and brought down the house!) I would like to keep going with this.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person:

A:  I went to public and private Catholic schools. I hung out with friends, swam competitively, thought I'd be an artist, was involved with some community theatre. I was always a good reader. Best times were summers reading stacks of library books at the beach. Once I found out that dramas didn't have a lot of tedious narration, I read a lot of plays.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?:

A:  The cost of producing a play makes it extremely difficult for anyone with real talent to get their work staged. As a result there's absolute garbage on Broadway. The insane cost of theatre tickets puts it out of the range of middle class audiences.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Off hand, I really don't know...Shakespeare...Chekov...Pirandello...Albee...Sheridan ... Ludlam ..."Anonymous"

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Intelligent comedies... (is that an oxymoron?)

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Master the English Language! Study grammar! Read a lot of plays! Marry up!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  GIOVANNI THE FEARLESS, a commedia dell’arte folk opera. Music by Mira J. Spektor; book & lyrics by Carolyn Feleppa Balducci will be performed at the Theater for the New City, May 12-21.

My translation of Dovizi's La Calandra absolutely deserves production - the granddaddy of all screwball comedies - written in 1535. Adapting/producing a musical play by David Garrick is another on my to-do list.

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