The Yale Repertory Theater’s production of Carlo Gozzi’s “The King Stag,” helps prove the theory that change can be good. Sure, it didn’t work for Keri Russell with that whole hair fiasco, but this musical installation of Carlo Gozzi’s 18th-century love triangle romp, set in the present day, sweetly pulls at the heart-strings. Evan Yionoulis, Mike Yionoulis, and Catherine Sheehy’s adeptly written adaptation balances the levity of references to Christina Aguilera with the seriousness of overcoming societal norms to find true love.
The transplantation of the story from an Italian palace in 1762 to a “multi-billion dollar entertainment conglomerate” called Serendippo Worldwide gives the tale a decidedly postmodern feel. Stereotypes such as the soulless corporation replete with money-hungry, evil CEO are played to the hilt. These changes help make the play exceedingly accessible to the viewer; where a production of Gozzi’s unmolested original may have seemed stuffy and off-putting to a modern audience, this one is as easy to watch as a sitcom episode — yet much richer. Besides, as the elaborate play program drolly notes, the old setting was “so 242 years ago.”
The plot revolves around the employees of Serendippo. Deramo, a young, handsome stockholder in the company, is looking for a wife. He stages an elaborate public interview contest that indirectly leads him to his true love, Angela. Everyone smiles on the union except Tartaglia, the nefarious head of the company who, out of either love or jealousy (the former seems doubtful), decides he wants Angela for himself. Tartaglia tricks Deramo into teaching him a necromancer’s spell, which Tartaglia then uses on the unsuspecting Deramo. Deramo’s soul enters the body of a dead stag, and Tartaglia inhabits Deramo’s body.
All of the action takes place in Enchanting Empire, a theme park owned by Serendippo Worldwide. The park encompasses a mock forest, called the Serendippo Serengeti, thrill rides such as The Milkshake, and personal chambers for the major players. The feeling is effectively established by a pageant of park-going families, but the expert costuming and set design are what really set the scene. Costume designer Camille Assaf DRA ’04 and scenic designer Sergio Villegas DRA ’04 utilize every opportunity to add color to the stage. The result is a stunning array of chartreuses, magentas and teals. The theme of Enchanting Empire is all things bovine, and cow-shaped pieces of fabric tawdrily sewn onto each character’s bright, tacky costume help reaffirm the identity of the colorful locale. Trap doors, gliding panels, and spinning platforms are innovatively employed to re-create all the confusion and wonderment of an amusement park.
Songs and music, a heavy dosage of quips, and several other techniques lend the production its tongue-in-cheek sensibility. Smeraldina, a happy-go-lucky employee and the person behind the Dippi Cow park mascot, repeatedly breaks into operatic Italian, during which a small screen descends from the top of the stage to offer subtitles. Characters dance around in time to the soundtrack, and voice-overs are employed when characters are having particularly humorous thoughts. All these elements, especially the subtitling, help blur the line between cinema and stage and help the production to overcome the limits of the exposed, static theatrical format.
“King Stag” is pure entertainment. From the lobby of the theater, where a haggard-looking beggar (a character in the play, you’ll later learn, named Cigolotti and played heartwarmingly by Matthew Cowles) accosts unsuspecting patrons, to the breathtaking deus-ex-machina appearance of the striking magician Durandarte (B.J. Crosby), tricked out in all her sequins and disco-fabulousness, the show is a whirlwind of color and sound. But more importantly, this musical is full of upbeat messages and comedic home-runs. It’s impossible not to be put in a good mood by the good humor and feelings coursing through the play. Audiences will be pleased long after the completion.