Comm-80s-a at Chicago dell’Arte | Theater review

Archetypes meet stereotypes in a semi-improvised mash-up of commedia and John Hughes.
Photograph: Matt Hyland Comm-80s-a at Chicago dell'Arte
By Emily Gordon |

The ’80s show no sign of ending, and Chicago dell’Arte jumps on the leg-warmered bandwagon with a semi-improvised farce in the classical commedia style. There’s logic here: John Hughes movies, which form a healthy portion of the cast’s source material, and commedia both rely on archetypes whose jokes and motivations are pleasantly predictable. Here, the popular girl and the jock (the equally appealing Laura Marsh and Tommy Venuti) are the young lovers whose breakup is plotted by trickster elders—with only four days to go before prom. There’s a cynical outsider, a lecherous principal, a fast girl, a concerned uncle and a bumblingly macho coach, all of whom more or less have counterparts in the oeuvre of Hughes and co.

The commedia form calls for the play to be reinvented nightly, and some scenes in the performance I saw transcended the kitschy period sound bites. Most memorable are the brief dance sequences, meticulously choreographed by Laura Marsh. There’s a real beauty in seeing the steps from Footloose, Flashdance, The Breakfast Club and the rest re-created so faithfully and exuberantly by a troupe of performers whose dedication and sincerity elevate even the most throwaway exchange. It’s in these moments that the ’80s really come flooding back, with a little help from songs whose frantic synth and lyrics render them each an angsty playlet unto itself.