Alchemy and amore
The Meaning of It All
Wilkerson Theatre (formerly The California Stage)1723 25th St.
Sacramento, CA 95816
Take one alchemist with a bad case of pre-nuptial jitters, his freethinking brother, a headstrong bride, and a greedy button man for the famiglia, and plunk them all down in Renaissance Pisa.
What you get is a tilting comedy to match that city’s famous campanile, also known as the leaning tower of Pisa. The Meaning of It All is the work of local playwright Robert Lautz, with assistance from California Stage’s playwright and dramaturge, Rick Foster, and from director Ray Tatar.
The story takes place in the cottage of Calvino Mezzo Zucco (Brennan Villados), an alchemist and inventor who is trying desperately to turn lead into gold because he may have, inadvertently and completely on accident, hinted to his future father-in-law that he could do so.
His brother Savio (Tony Hutt) arrives—along with his belongings—in need of a place to stay because he’s been fired from his university post for his failure to be pious enough. And, in the midst of all this, here comes a member of the dominant Domenici famiglia of Florence (Mahlon Greenhalgh), who has heard about the whole lead-into-gold thing and wants to make sure his relatives get their hands on it.
With the pressure on, Calvino finds himself unable to, uh, keep his bride (Chelsea Barone) happy, and rather than continuing his experiments, he’s concentrating on winning her back. There’s also a subplot with his friend Luca (Arturo Gonzales), who is unluckily in love with his artist cousin, Mona (Katherine Dahl).
The Meaning of It All is, in many ways, a typical farce, with misunderstandings and sexual innuendo. The more unusual additions to the genre come from Savio, the alchemist’s brother, and his insights both into the limitations that religion has on science and invention and his scathing indictments of hypocrisy. His intellect seems far superior to the others—and he doesn’t get many funny lines—which leaves him thoroughly underutilized.
Worth noting is the detailed and beautiful set constructed in the oddly-shaped space of the Wilkerson Theatre. Kurt Kurtis’s design includes an alchemist lab, complete with glass containers of multi-colored potions and multiple bottles and implements for all sorts of concoctions. Jenny Plummer is responsible for the costumes, which are both detailed and flexible (and, in the case of the wedding-night robe, thoroughly blush-worthy). However, the wig on Calvino should be reconsidered.
The one holdup in the program is the intermittent use of Italian words and phrases—and the accents, which have a bad habit of slipping from time to time (including one that sounds more Brooklyn pizza parlor than Pisa). In this particular case, with the scene set so thoroughly, the accents and Italian phrases slow the comedy down rather than moving it ahead.