What a pleasure it is to watch Peter Hansen and the other actors of Gremlin Theatre take control of the aimless comedy “The Venetian Twins.” It is a perfect example of the energy and enthusiasm live theater can bring to the printed word, and the humor that can be extracted from texts over 200 years old.
“The Venetian Twins” is a comedy about two twins, Zanetto and Tonino (both played by Hansen), and a series of misunderstandings that occur over the course of a single day. Most of these mix-ups involve the women in each man’s life. Zanetto, a very wealthy but dim-witted individual, is in town to propose marriage to Rosaura (Debra Dean). But, as their first encounter reveals, Zanetto has little more than lusty affairs on his mind. Tonino is poor, but far more dignified than his twin brother, and has truly fallen in love with his muse, Beatrice (Pam Christenson).
Written by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, the humor of “The Venetian Twins” emerges from these moments of mistaken identity, where Zanetto bumps into people who are expecting the stoic Tonino, and Tonino is mistaken for his idiotic brother. It is unquestionably a humorous premise, but one that really has nowhere to go. To counter this, the Gremlin troupe has exaggerated the script. Pushing the limits of sanity, every character and line is embellished to maximize its comic impact.
Two characters in particular buoy the weak script with their overstated appearances. Lelio (Carl Schoenborn), enemy of Tonino, prances around in a white outfit with gold pants and feathered cap, hitting every line with a physical and verbal flourish that intentionally reeks of overacting. Brighello (Edward Linder) is the squinting, hunched-over elderly servant who becomes a welcome reprieve from the play’s implausible plot.
But the real treasure of this production is Hansen. Playing the parts of both twins, and on stage for nearly the entire play, he gives this thin material a needed jolt of excitement. His Zanetto is knee-slappingly hilarious: the spoiled brat sulks around the stage with a protruding gut. He whines, moans and is hardly the nobleman one would expect to find in Verona, Italy circa 1750.
Then, swiftly, Hansen morphs into Tonino, Zanetto’s foil. As he plays the straight man in numerous encounters with those who think he is his brother, we sense the fun Hansen is having playing opposing characters.
The play’s funniest moment is indicative of Hansen’s abilities. As Zanetto, he stands beneath Rosaura’s window, reciting the sweet and poetic words one would expect from such a romantic scene. Hansen makes this predictable moment comical as he overacts the speech, waving his arms in the air and jumping around to embody the emotions of Zanetto’s words. When she resists his advances, telling Zanetto that her father does not care for him, Hansen does a perfect comedic return to the whiny, immature Zanetto of the first act. He adopts a confused look and shrieks, “Why not?!”
Hansen keeps “The Venetian Twins” engaging. He is endlessly entertaining, timing his lines, expressions and physical humor perfectly. Working with a wandering script that never recognizes when enough is enough, it is the performers of the Gremlin Theatre who make the experience of a mediocre script worth enduring.
“The Venetian Twins” plays through March 2 at Loading Dock Theater, (651) 228-7008.
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