I’ve heard about Faction for a while now, but I hadn’t been able to catch one of their shows until a couple weeks ago, when I saw their Henry V. Faction of Fools is a commedia dell’arte troupe. Some of their members have actually gone to Italy to train with people who have received that tradition handed down for hundreds of years. One sees people from time to time who are trying to do commedia, but this is the real deal.
I keep calling this an “adaptation” of Henry V, but that’s not right. They use Shakespeare’s text; this is Henry V, no question about it. But it’s also…not? They start with the text and match each of the characters with a commedia stock figure. Henry was sort of a Capitano figure, for example. Most of the actors were masked, but not all. The commedia figures were oddly illuminating for the text. The queen of France was (I think) La Signora, and this gave her more agency than in any production I’ve seen before. It makes me want to stage this show and experiment with that kind of confidence and self-determination in a more standard production.
Another interesting feature was that this company is based at Gallaudet University and included Casey Johnson-Pasqua, a Deaf actor. She signed while another actor voiced her part. They kind of joked about this, which I thought was lovely. She wasn’t ever the butt of a joke, but they did joke around about it. Someone would come in and start talking really fast at her, and she’d sign in a frustrated way and then they’d remember they needed to sign to her. That kind of thing.
Probably my favorite scene was the one with Katherine and Alice, the maid (it’s a great scene in any production, but especially in this one). Alice was Deaf, and this is a scene where Alice is supposed to teach Katherine some useful English words (“elbow”? shrug). But, of course, Alice didn’t speak English. She spoke ASL. So she was signing and then finger spelling, and Katherine had to sound it out. It was hilarious.
I’m eager to see more of Faction’s work. They don’t only do Shakespeare; they have many other commedia performances. Highly recommend.