The earliest practitioners of the theater form known as commedia dell' arte understood that the slapstick and the outlandish costumes and the stock characters it uses often are avenues to make satirical points about serious subjects.
"A lot of companies at the time took well-known people in town and made fun of them," said Dan Stone, the head of the Linn-Benton Community College theater department.
That time was during the Italian Renaissance in the 16th century or so — but Stone said that the tropes of commedia del'arte still can be used effectively today to land comedic jabs on the hottest, most contentious, issues.
That was the intent in 2016, when Stone first wrote "I Got Guns!", which uses the commedia del'arte form to poke fun at all sides in the debate over guns.
That play racked up awards at theater festivals. Now, Stone has updated the 75-minute play, which opens a two-weekend run at Linn-Benton Community College beginning Friday night. (See the related story for details about the performances.)
Stone has staged a number of plays using the commedia dell'arte form over the years. The form, he said, "lends itself to be a vehicle for satire and examining our lives in sort of a satirical, comedic way."
Like the original, the updated version is an equal-opportunity offender, Stone said: "There's funny stuff for you regardless of whatever side of the political aisle you sit on."
The plot of "I Got Guns!" uses the stock characters of commedia dell'arte in modern ways: Pantalone, for example, the greedy old man, owns a gun-manufacturing shop in the play and is always on the lookout for new venues in which to sell his guns. His daughter and her boyfriend are "extreme liberals," Stone said, who will stop at nothing to disrupt Pantalone's schemes. Meanwhile, the captain is interested in buying as many guns as possible.
What occurs over the 75 minutes of the play is a good dose of raunchy humor, with plenty of slapstick, songs and opportunities for the cast members to improvise.
And both extreme liberals and extremely conservatives are butts of the show's satirical stings, Stone said — but people who bring strong opinions about the topic to the theater need to keep something else in mind:
"This is satire," Stone said. "People need to come to the theater figuratively and literally unarmed."