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Theater & Dance

Must-See: The Commedia Rapunzel

Must-See: The Commedia Rapunzel

Commedia Rapunzel

A wacky retelling of the classic fairytale breaks the fourth wall

Photo: Alexandra Campos

Something special is happening off-Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse. A troupe of talented performers calling themselves The Spaghetti and Meatball Players are encouraging everyone to be weird with The Commedia Rapunzel, a new show written by Sam LaFrage and directed by Dennis Corsi and LaFrage.

Pulling on the traditions of Italian commedia dell'arte, LaFrage and his acolytes enchant audiences, young and old, with their high-energy and spirited retelling of the classic Rapunzel story. The zany antics and innumerable laughs are written into the script, but it's really an exchange of energy between the audience and the cast that makes this experience truly shine. "We're not too cool to not break the fourth wall or stray away from the script," says LaFrage. "That's what commedia dell'arte is--structured improv."

Yet, classical modes of popular theater are not the only things that inform the piece. The artistry of drag does too. In the show, LaFrage's Arlecchino gets stuck playing the Cobbler's Wife in the story of Rapunzel, to which he responds "That's okay. I like playing the girl parts anyway."

From that moment on, LaFrage treats the audience to a dry, witty persona that is reminiscent of a family-friendly Willam Belli, the RuPaul's Drag Race alumn. Sass exudes from the stage, and not just from LaFrage. The whole cast draws children in with whimsical personas, while treating the adults in the audience to jokes tailored to their demographic ("It's okay to laugh. This isn't Angels in America"). This makes the show perfect for all ages and people attending, with or without kids in tow.

So, why use commedia dell'arte and drag to recreate Rapunzel? "Growing up, I never had an outlet that told me it was okay to be myself," explains LaFrage, who is originally from a small town in South Carolina. "So, through developing the show with Rapunzel being so weird, it just organically came forth." However, this message isn't just for the children. "We're saying 'it's okay to be you,' and at the same time reminding adults to be themselves," says LaFrage. "We forget these things. We're so conditioned by our fears."

Through the power of comedy, the purpose of The Commedia Rapunzel is to instill love into people. "RuPaul is so influential to me," says LaFrage. "He is doing what I want to do with this show--inputting love. And, he's been doing it his whole career. He's been putting love back into our community."

We all know that laughter heals, and with debates about internalized homophobia occurring in our community, and external homophobia continuing to shape legislation, we can all use some love. These are the very things that LaFrage hopes all audiences, no matter their age or how they identify, take from The Commedia Rapunzel. "I want people to have a really freaking good time," says LaFrage. "Then, I want them to know that it's ok. That's all. Growing up, I didn't have that. So, having an opportunity to do that, I'm like 'I'm going to do this.'"

The Commedia Rapunzel runs through January 30 at SoHo Playhouse. For more information, visit TheCommediaRapunzel.com

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