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Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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Playwright: David Mann. At: Commedia Beauregard at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.Tickets: 773-404-7336;; $25. Runs through: June 24

Mario Puzo's saga of organized crime in the United States is only a short step away from Jacobean tragedy, so it was probably only a matter of time until some aspiring modern playwright reversed the chronology. David Mann's adaptation is not an irreverent schoolboy sketch extended to full-length proportions, however, but literary time-travel adhering faithfully to the conventions of its designated period. The results could easily be performed before a crowd of 17th-century London playgoers, should such an audience be discovered today in need of entertainment.

This attention to detail is expressed through dialogue written in iambic pentameter ending in rhymed couplets ("My father, who would not insult excuse/did make him an offer he could not refuse"), though a character might announce his intention to speak frankly by declaring, "I wish to speak with you in prose." The drug known in 2012 as heroin, as described to Don Corleone, is a "distillation of poppies producing a poison that lives within the blood." Modern firearms, too, are conspicuously absent: The double assassination in the restaurant mimics the stratagem of the "envenomed" cup and blade in Hamlet, while Sonny Corleone is murdered, not in a shower of bullets, but by an ambush in which three hitters stab him with a dagger, sword and pike.

There's more—Lords of Brooklyn and Dukes of Queens, dead brother's ghosts warning their siblings of treachery, a Las Vegas lounge singer warbling "hey-nonny-nonny" to a Big Band beat. Who would expect anything less from Commedia Beauregard, the Minnesota-based company devoted to theater-in-translation, on the 40th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola's landmark film? An ensemble fluent in Elizabethan declamation deliver their speeches with an articulate conviction as free of self-mockery as that of their source material. It's unfortunate (one is tempted to say "'Tis pity") that the production's dramatic momentum must be impeded by the frequent scene changes arising from its spartan touring set.

Despite the inevitable tendency of spectators to giggle at familiar references, whether Shakespeare or Hollywood, it is a mistake to dismiss the purpose of this literary experiment as simple spoofery. The goal of the Commedia Beauregard aesthetic, in its forging of cultural community, represents an attempt to bridge the isolation that divides societies today as surely as in 1946 Italy—or 1646 England. What's funny about that?

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