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At UVa, 'The Green Bird' is ruffling some feathers for fun

With about 40% of the University of Virginia Department of Drama’s new show being improvised, it’s safe to say that the cast of “The Green Bird” enjoys winging it.

Director Dave Dalton’s 19-member cast is freshening Carlo Gozzi’s 1765 commedia dell’arte romp, which opens Thursday in Culbreth Theatre, and that’s exactly what the playwright intended. The actors are bringing clever references to such modern physical comedians as Monty Python and Lucille Ball and such influences as stand-up comedy to the tale of a complicated royal family and the mysterious plumed character at the heart of its adventure.

Dalton said he started the creative process with his cast by asking them for examples of what they find funny. The actors took a closer look at the characters, performers and situations they enjoy in hopes of figuring out why.

“First, we decided to identify, ‘What makes you laugh?’ “ Dalton told The Daily Progress. Sometimes, the answer was parody. At other times, laughter came from creating expectations only to shatter them. Honoring the spirit of the show called for harnessing the enduring appeal of improvisation, which often meant working without a net.

If You Go"The Green Bird" University of Virginia Department of Drama 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. March 28 and 8 p.m. March 29 Culbreth Theatre $14; $12 UVa faculty and staff members; $8 students (434) 924-3376 Audience advisory: Contains haze and flashing lights, some coarse language, and references and jokes about potentially sensitive subjects, including infertility

“It also required them to be brave,” Dalton said. “They didn’t have a full script until three or four weeks into rehearsal.”

Plenty of energy for the play is coming from the costume department, whose members welcomed an opportunity to spread their wings.

“This was a show that was proposed by someone in our costume shop,” Dalton said.

Guest costume designer Elizabeth Wislar’s creations are upcycling and repurposing items the designers have on hand, so audience members will want to keep an eye out for, among other items, a coat made of stuffed animals. Audience members can learn more about different sources of inspiration by lingering in the Culbreth lobby to check out an informative display. Fans of the Flaming Lips will be delighted to learn how some of the creative band’s larger-than-life concert elements influenced the UVa team’s adaptation of the play.

The director said that fans and practitioners of the commedia dell’arte of old likely would recognize the stock characters they loved in their new plumage, and they’d appreciate the UVa cast’s efforts to set them free in a whole new time period with a comfortably stuffed comedic toolbox.

“The stock characters of commedia can be recognized in contemporary comedy forms,” Dalton said. “it’s basically an Italian clown show, and it brings you along for the ride.”


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