Skip to main content
Loading Events
image of painting
History & Politics, Theater & Dance

Isabella Unmasked

The Legacy of an Italian Renaissance Woman

November 29, 2018
6:30 pm

Pazzi Lazzi presents

Isabella Unmasked
The Legacy of an Italian Renaissance Woman

One Actress, Ten Characters. One Musician, Ten Instruments

Written by
Chiara Durazzini and Walter Valeri

Directed by
Walter Valeri and Marco Zanelli

Chiara Durazzini

with music by
Dan Meyers

In 1589, the Commedia dell’Arte show La Pazzia di Isabella (The Madness of Isabella) was a triumph at the Medici court in Florence. The protagonist was Isabella Andreini, a poet, a mother and one of the first professional theater performers. A true “Renaissance woman,” this original show is a tribute to her and to her legacy: all women working in the arts today.


A note from the playwrights: 

Historians don’t have much information about the life of Isabella Andreini, who was born in Padua in 1562 as Isabella Canali and died in Lyon in 1604. However, her fame as an actress – one of the first female theatre professionals – is still alive today. A renowned poet and a performer of extraordinary talent, she became famous for playing male and female roles, for using different languages, for her flexibility in playing all the Commedia stock characters and for tearing her clothes off on stage. She was the “femme prodige” of the Italian Renaissance theatre.

With our desire to bring back her myth and put on a show about her, we began writing this show, basing it loosely on the Flaminio Scala’s scenario “La Pazzia di Isabella” (the name of the protagonist being the same of the actress who made it famous) as we imagined Isabella wearing the various Commedia dell’Arte masks both on her face and with her body, changing her physicality. Traveling back in time, and rediscovering the origins of drama, we also took some inspiration from Pietro Aretino, the love poems of the mediaeval women troubadours, as well as Andreini’s own sonnets. 

Through Isabella Andreini playing a variety of Commedia dell’Arte stock characters, we return to the ancient and rustic origins of Italian theatre, which allows us to reflect upon undying themes such as love, sexism, madness, money, old age, hunger, and theatre itself. The character of Isabella represents the stubborn unrequited love which inevitably leads to madness; Orazio, with his narcissistic need for other lovers, incarnates the sexual pleasure rediscovered during the Humanism and Renaissance times; Arlecchino, who tries to satisfy his appetites coming up with countless excuses to justify his actions; the gossipy Ricciolina with her judgmental restlessness due to the lack of a rich personal life; and the Dottore, who will discover only in the end which is the only possible cure for Isabella’s madness.

It will not be hard for the audience to recognize the tragi-comic archetypes portrayed by Chiara Durazzini, accompanied by the enchanting period music played by Dan Meyers.