Fafalo cares for the square in his town and is something of a buffoon until he is suddenly made king. He is enjoying his new station in life until a monster threatens the kingdom and Fafalo is expected to defend it.
“FAFALO!,” written and directed by Stephen Legawiec, is a delightful and hysterical one-act show performed in the Camden amphitheatre in the Commedia dell’arte style. It is presented by the Camden Shakespeare Festival in association with Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble and the Camden Library.
It is one of just two outside theater productions that usually take place annually to open this summer in Maine. Ten Bucks Theatre Company opened “The Taming of the Shrew” on July 16.
Commedia dell’arte is an Italian form of comedy that flourished in Europe from the 16th through the 18th centuries. Troupes of professional actors traveled from town to town performing in public spaces. Actors wore colorful costumes and masks that often represented a character type.
Actors in “FAFALO!” wear handmade Balinese wooden masks over the upper parts of their faces. They were created by master Balinese artist Nyoman Setiawan for the show’s premiere in 2007. The play also features large puppets designed by Maine puppeteer Libby Marcus.
The masks and the performance style force the actors to exaggerate their movements so that the action sometimes looks more like a dance than a theatrical performance. The credit for that goes to Mask and Movement Director Dana Legawiec, the director’s wife. The colorful and layered costumes designed by Suzanne Wakefield help identify each character and his or her station in the kingdom.
Actor Jared Mongeau infuses Fafalo with a joyous confusion about the turn his life takes. He is a charming Everyman who must face his own fears and shortcomings to prevail.
Mongeau plays expertly off the audience, ad libbing and joking before the show gets started. While Fafalo never convinces anyone that he is qualified to be king, Mongeau beguiles the audience into believing he has the heart that should beat in the breast of every monarch.
Equally fine are Andrew Elijah Edwards as Bogezmo, a city bureaucrat and as Banjawi, the evil one who threatens the city, and Hannah Daly as Linga and Nolan Ellsworth as Yungio, the lovers.
The production is performed on grass in the amphitheatre across from Camden Harbor. Bright yellow rope marks off the stage area and six feet from that are the seating areas, arranged so that family members or households may sit together. They are separated from other theatergoers by six feet, as required by the state’s social distancing requirements. Actors who do not reside together follow those guidelines on stage, too.
“FAFALO” demonstrates why live theater is so important in our lives, especially after being deprived of it for so long to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This is an adventure story and a fable presented in a style that demonstrates how theater suddenly appeared out of nowhere in towns across Europe and brought communities together for surprising performances.
That experience comes into the 21st century with this production. As the play is being performed, people wander through the amphitheatre carrying oars and backpacks to get to parking lots and Route 1. They stop for a few moments to take in the action before traveling on.
“FAFALO!” feels like an itinerant troupe of actors showed up to entertain and amaze the tourists and locals of Camden. It captures all the electricity and excitement of live performance that we’ve been missing for so long. Don’t miss it!
“FAFALO!” will be performed at 5 p.m. most Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 30 at the Camden Amphitheatre, 58 Main Street. Audience members will be required to maintain a safe social distance from others and wear masks when not seated. Audience members may bring their own chairs or blankets to sit on the grass. In the case of rain the show will be canceled, and ticket holders may use their tickets at a future performance. For more information, call 464-0008 or visit camdenshakespeare.org.