Over the weekend, the theatrical part of the Italy on Stage festival started to pour out on the stage of the Mark Hellinger, and the first tasting was pleasant to the palate.
The show was ''Pulcinella,'' a handsomely mounted comedy by the Teatro di Roma that has a curious provenance. It is a story of Pulcinella, the masked figure of Neapolitan comedy that has been popular since the 1600's. Its simple tale of a company that journeys to Paris to play before the king, and the refusal of its leader to doff the mask for more courtly buffoonery, does indeed smack of those early years.
But the Punchlike characterization in this production actually stems from an idea for a film, never realized, by Roberto Rossellini. It was adapted for the stage by Manlio Santanelli, who wrote it, and by the show's director, Maurizio Scaparro. The comedy is wild, but underlying it is a strain of soul-searching for values, and resistance to the corruption of vanity. The simple settings are wonderfully striking, thanks to imaginative lighting and a tasteful employment of colors.
The company itself is joyfully versatile, an ensemble that substitutes agility and posture for stage props and that can with a mere thrust of a limb achieve an eloquence that words might not provide. Massimo Ranieri, as the leader of the troupe, sets an evocative mood, relieving the presentation of mere re-enactment of things as they were and making it altogether contemporary to audiences.
The supertitles seemed, to those who were not among the cognoscenti, cunningly designed to miss almost all the laugh lines. Those who understood the language, however, had an uproarious time.
This is the first of several plays by various Italian companies that will give performances at different sites in the city. To judge from the first, there will be much of interest.