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The Divine Madness of Isabella

One-person shows often deal in household names (i.e., Harry Truman, Samuel Clemens, Eleanor Roosevelt). That way, the audience can meet the performer halfway between official history and a living, breathing interpretation of a hallowed cultural monument. But playwright-performer Wendy Gough is having none of that. Her subject is the all but obscure Isabella Andreini. Gough tells us that Andreini was a renowned 16th-century Italian scholar, poet and actress credited with raising the nascent commedia dell'arte from a low burlesque into the expressive art form that certain university professors and Italian buffs celebrate today. Trouble is, Gough spends so much time relating the history of Isabella and commedia that her play becomes bogged down in a quagmire of drama-smothering exposition. Among the casualties is Gough's real objective — the tightrope journey of the artist from the safe and rational to the grand inspiration found only at the edge of insanity. Gough's use of commedia elements in her storytelling proves her an accomplished mask maker, a wry puppeteer, a capable historian and an earnest performer. Unfortunately, artist biographies come with their own Catch-22: The talents onstage must be equal to the artist they're portraying. Director John Achorn's insipid stage compositions and Gough's ultimate failure to transmute lifeless documentary fact into compelling dramatic tension are the best evidence that this pair is not.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Starts: Aug. 14. Continues through Aug. 24, 2008

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