UVA Drama Continues 2023-2024 Season with 'The Green Bird'

Carlo Gozzi’s Commedia dell’arte-Inspired Italian Fable Combines Spectacular Comedy, Enchanted Forests, Singing Apples, and a Mysterious Green Bird

Barbarina (Maya Berry) wonders if this mysterious feathered friend (Jack Wolff) will help her find a happy ending in this fantastical 18th century tale, The Green Bird.  Photo Credit: Michael Bailey Photography
Barbarina (Maya Berry) wonders if this mysterious feathered friend (Jack Wolff) will help her find a happy ending in this fantastical 18th-century tale, 'The Green Bird.' Photo Credit: Michael Bailey Photography

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA –February 28, 2024  – The UVA Department of Drama will continue its 2023-2024 season with The Green Bird, Carlo Gozzi’s 1765 commedia dell’arte inspired telling of an Italian fable that combines spectacular comedy, enchanted forests, singing apples, and a mysterious green bird.

The Green Bird, directed by Dave Dalton, opens March 21 at Culbreth Theatre.

Set in a dysfunctional kingdom, Gozzi’s take on the classic fairy tale invites audiences along a rocky and raucous road to happily ever after, complete with an evil Queen, a dimwitted King, an unknowing prince and princess pair, and of course, the colorful bird whose power over the whole thing is the question everyone is trying to answer. 

For Dalton and his 19-person cast, the process of bringing this play to the stage has been full of open questions. Working from the original Italian and using an online translator, they have been relying heavily on what Dalton calls “iterative improv” on a script that offers generous amounts of artistic license.  

“I’d say that approximately 40% of the play is improvised,” Dalton said. “What Gozzi has given you is essentially a scene that is built off bullet points. A large part of the script is written without specific dialogue, instead suggesting types of dialogue.” This means that director and cast are often making dialogue decisions based on what they know about the archetypal characters and how those archetypes might make sense to a modern audience. 

“A lot of it,” he said, is finding what we think is funny, and combining it with what we know about commedia, then placing that into a 21st Century setting. The way I have been explaining commedia to people when talking about this play is that it is an Italian clown that offers a silly, over the top, exaggerated version of people you might meet in your life.”

The process, Dalton said, has been “both exciting and a little bit scary.” It can be exhilarating to discover things organically in the rehearsal room, he said, that are matches for the students’ sense of humor, or of his own. “The playwright’s intention here,” he said, “is for us to improvise and find out what is going to work for us.” Dalton is facilitating this intention by encouraging the cast to make connections to recognizable archetypes, whether to comedians they know or familiar physical comedy styles like those of Lucille Ball or Monty Python. 

The artistic freedom has extended throughout the creative team. One character, Renzo, undergoes a pauper-to-prince transformation. When that transformation is complete, guest costume designer Elizabeth Wislar channeled her interest in upcycling, or taking things that already exist and repurposing them into new types of clothes, and created a coat for him that is made entirely out of recycled stuffed animals. The team’s inspiration came from far and wide, Dalton said. “We looked a lot at concert footage and photos of the Flaming Lips, who are known for their outlandish concert presentations. Audiences can learn more about these costume inspirations and the creations they spawned in a special lobby display,” Dalton said.

The improvisatory process is likely to result in a highly entertaining audience experience, Dalton added. “I think it will be fun and organic from the moment you walk into the theatre. It will feel like the characters are interacting directly with you, in the same way they do in a standup comedy show.”

Tickets for The Green Bird are sold through the UVA Arts Box Office and are available online at www.artsboxoffice.virginia.edu, by phone at 434-924-3376, or in person at the UVA Arts Box office located in the lobby of the Drama Building. Hours of operation are noon to 5PM, Tuesday through Friday. Free parking for UVA Drama performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located across Culbreth Road from the Drama Building.  The Green Bird contains haze and flashing lights, some coarse language, and references to / jokes about potentially sensitive subjects, including but not limited to infertility.

More Drama Stories

View More