Translated and adapted by assistant professor Janine Sobeck Knighton, the commedia dell’arte, “King Stag” by Carlo Gozzi and performed by UVU Theatre was a play for the COVID-centric time period we live in. Directed by Matt August and headed by an all-star cast of Joshua Briggs, Isaac Gates, Aspen Thompson, Coco Galli King, Dominique Morrison, Carter Anderson, Skylar Lees, Michelle Adams, Marta Myers, Julia Wihongi, Caleb Voss and Addie Bowler, “King Stag” was a wild and entertaining ride.
With a constant nod to the world of COVID-19, this fun and energetic cast of entirely masked characters spread out over the Noorda’s newly placed black and white tiled floors, the well-lit stage having been set with several pairs of Romanesque columns. Eight microphones were each placed six feet apart on the stage itself, just one of the clever ways the cast of “King Stag” was able to maintain the appropriate social distancing standards throughout the show. This entertaining and, at times eccentric show began and ended with a dance sequence, showing the lighthearted vibe of the comedy. There was a great amount of laughter from the audience physically present in the theater, as well as those watching the livestream from home.
“King Stag” was a story of love, betrayal and all of the elements in between. King Deramo (Briggs) had been searching for a wife, having rejected over 2,000 women from far and wide before finally deciding to look within his own kingdom. Angela (Thompson), Smeraldina (Adams) and Clarice (Morrison) were women from this local realm picked to meet with the King as potential brides. Clarice’s father, Tartaglia (Gates), the cunning, double-edged villain and closest advisor of Deramo hatched several selfish plans which subsequently threw all the characters into a world of chaos. But Deramo also had a secret weapon, the wizard Durandante (King) who aided him in his search for a wife.
Throughout the play were apparent and hilarious gestures to popular culture and the pandemic. In one scene, Truffaldino (Lees), a jester of sorts and love interest of Smeraldina, broke the fourth wall and asked an audience member to record his proposal attempt with their cell phone. His giddy sound-playmaking, masterly provided by the two foley artists (Voss and Bowler), contributed greatly to the air of silliness in the show. In another, Clarice was upset by her father’s demand to meet with the King and when Angela enquired after her, Tartaglia simply responded, “Her stimulus check didn’t come.” Later, it was revealed that the King could switch bodies with an animal by reading an incantation given to him by the enchantress. No sooner had the audience heard of this spell than they were brought to laughter by it being none other than lyrics to Taylor Swift’s mega-hit single, “Shake It Off.” A romantic scene that might have included a kiss was instead replaced by an elbow bump, and so on.
There were instances of Utah-based humor as well, like when Leandro (Anderson), the love interest of Clarice strongly proclaimed to her, “No mountain, dragon, or even Vivint Solar salesman will ever come between us!” One of the two dance sequences included the “Hokie Pokie,” which may not be strictly a Utahn thing, but still carried on the distinctive sense of Utah culture with its humorous appearance. Another example was in an exchange between Truffaldino and Smeraldina, in which the latter presented a box of Crumbl cookies as an apology. The jovial hints to local culture were just one of the many intelligent ways this adaption of “King Stag” was able to engage the audience and poke fun all at the same time.
One of the key elements of uniqueness in this production was the innovative use of items for sound effects. The two tables on either side of the stage were placed for the two foley artists, who worked with everything from mini swords to a whisk in order to provide accurate sounds. These two cast members were also in charge of adding noise to the character’s scenes without the actual usage of props. This limited the number of items passing through everyone’s hands was another smart COVID-19 safety technique. A hilarious moment in the show occurred when one of the artists got carried away with the sounds of a sword fight, continuing to make noise even after the fight ended and subsequently having both the audience and actors on stage watching until she came back down from her own world of fun.
Overall, “King Stag” was an enjoyable presentation by the UVU Theatre team, whose acting was still as spot-on as with some of their more serious shows. The brilliant cast was able to bring what might have otherwise been a typical comedy of errors to life with their talent and levity. These students made the show what it was, and were a strong encouragement to continue seeing plays at UVU to experience their work in more than just a comedic environment. For more information on the UVU Theatre team, please visit https://www.uvu.edu/theatre/ or to buy tickets at https://www.uvu.edu/thenoorda/academic/index.html#theatre.