Spark Theater presents THE LOVE POTION, a new adaptation of the Niccolo Machiavelli Italian comedy, La Mandragola. The plot revolves around lovesick Callimaco (Medina) who is willing to go to ridiculous lengths to win the affection of the fair Lucretia (played by Emily March). The only problem? She’s married. Soon a classic “commedia” story unfolds to win the Lucretia’s heart with the help of a bunch of hilariously unsavory characters like a not-so-holy friar (Cardell) and self-serving mother (Linda Suttle).
The new theater was filled with the sounds of Mambo Italiano, which put everyone in the mood. While the show was funny, it was missing out on several comedic moments that would have had the audiences laughing out loud throughout the entire performance. Here are a couple of examples - when Messer says he doesn't have a feminine bone in his body, he should have had his pinky out while sipping espresso; Callimaco should have had a pair of oversized glasses when playing the fake doctor; and the Callimaco and Ligurio were calling for each other from opposite sides of the stage, it was just screaming for a Marco Polo moment (especially since the explorer was Italian......get it!?!). I also loved the pantomimed pandemonium that was before and after the first scene and wished they would have continued that after every scene!!! Even a three minute synopsis of the entire show like they do at the end of Lend Me a Tenor would have been a welcome addition.
Now, usually directors tell actors that they are being over the top and to pull it back (Lord knows I have heard that in my career....I can be a bit dramatic at times), but exactly the opposite needed to happen with this production. All of the actors did a good job, but they needed to channel some more of the passionate Italian that they were portraying. Siro, played by Mike Martinkus was great, sarcastic, and personable. I would have liked to have seen more from Forum and the audience would have eaten it up. His fighting with Ligurio was fun (love the wine glass bit), but I would have liked it played up more. Ligurio played by Broderick Ballantyne was fun and hysterical at times, and kept the plot going, but I would have loved some nervous high-pitched laughter from him when the awkward moments happened (which were often for him). Chris Medina played the lovelorn and calculating Callimaco Guadagno and was good, but was not strong as the lead and needed some more of that Italian passion and drama that Roberto Benigni at the Oscars). Linda Suttle and the matriarch, Sostrata was lovely, but there was a moment at the end of the show where she flirted with Frate Timoteo and I thought that would have been a fun addition throughout the entire show! Her daughter, Lucrezia (played by Emily March) was pretty, but plain in her performance. It would have been funny had she had a Jersey accent and would have given her more personality. Lucrezia's father, Messer Nicia (played by Carmine DePaulo was masculine and at times funny, but felt a little flat. Had he had some feminine gestures (limp wrist) or a girly run, it was have been a comical contrast. Two actors were spot on and hilarious with their performances. Bernie Cardell as the frantic Frate Timoteo really stole the show with performance and was having so much with the role. Even though she had a smaller role, Laura Lounge as Una donna was just delightful and that voice had the house in stitches!
The set, by Artistic Director Michael Emmitt has a lot going on, but the set changes were effortless and really gave the Italian villa feeling. It was fun how they used every aspect of the stage including passageways behind the audience to really bring the action out. My only wish is that they could have covered the ugly overhead vents with some vines (but of course that may have been against fire code). It really would have given it that completed cozy cafe feel. The program was fun and made to look like an Italian restaurant menu. Now this is the vain, diva actor in me talking, but I also wish that they would put the actors bios on Spark's website for further recognition of this diverse talent.
Even with all of my suggestions, this really is a lovely and enjoyable production and the new space is wonderful. Spark Theater's THE LOVE POTION continues now until August 25th at their new location at 985 Santa Fe Drive in Denver, CO. For tickets or more information, contact the box office at 720-346-7396 or online at www.sparktheatre.org.