Part of a trilogy that includes La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, Federico Fellini's 1955 film Il Bidone grew out of the Italian neo-realist movement, revolving around three con men who roamed the countryside swindling the poor. Adapter-director Patrick Mapel has taken the basic story and utilizing the talents of a gifted design team wrapped it with the fantastical elements associated with the director's later work. Augusto (Ralph P. Martin) is an aging hustler whose sole aim in life is pulling off the successful scam until a chance meeting with his estranged teenage daughter (Andrea Tzvetkov) provokes a change of heart. His cohort Roberto (Ben Messmer) is an inveterate womanizer, while the trio's weakest link, Picasso (York Griffith), struggles to juggle his life of crime with his more benign persona as artist and family man. This is an impressively mounted production, executed with aplomb by a solid ensemble. Okulus Anomali's music, Fionnagan Murphy's sound, Jeffrey Elias Teeter's lighting and Janne Larsen's set blend to create a haunting aura that is both whimsical and harsh. It's an ironic backdrop to what ultimately emerges as gripping human drama. (Eric Michael Nolfo serves as technical director.) One important reservation: If you haven't seen the film, you might find the shifts in the episodic plot difficult to follow. A "chorus" of five performers, in clown costumes, portray a variety of characters, and their metamorphoses were not always clear to me. Some further clues more pronounced costume changes or props or simply a note in the program would be helpful.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Jan. 17. Continues through Feb. 24, 2008