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Reviews of 40 Brilliant Comedies

Jeff Raz

Former Cirque du Soleil star, author of The Secret Life of Clowns and guest faculty at Dell'Arte International


With 40 Brilliant Comedies, John A. Cross has brought a treasure trove of wildly popular, road-tested theatrical techniques and scripts to anyone interested in thrilling an audience. Commedia dell’Arte has been pulling crowds in dozens of countries for nearly five centuries but has yet to gain a foothold in modern America…until now. 40 Brilliant Comedies strips away pretension to offer theater-makers of all stripes the tools to imagine and re-imagine this wonderful style of theater. Using Cross’s book, everyone from drama club students to theater pros can wow audiences with vivid characters, well-crafted schtick and time-tested plots.

Micke Klingvall

Artistic Director of Theaterstudion and Kompani Komedi in Stockholm, Studied 3 years at Dell’Arte International


Here is a brilliant, easy-to-use version of Flaminio Scala’s scenarios for anyone who wants to explore Commedia dell’Arte. It is slightly reformed to give a helping hand staging the scenarios and to fit our day and age. The book uses a very practical scene breakdown adapted for easy use and even gives diagrams on relations between the masks in each scenario. It also gives an interesting insight to the way i Sebastiani – a Commedia dell’Arte group that have been working for over three decades – work with the material, which also can help students and ensembles to get started or as a tool for theatre teachers teaching Commedia dell’Arte.

Micke Klingvall

Artistic Director of Theaterstudion and Kompani Komedi in Stockholm, Studied 3 years at Dell’Arte International


I found John A. Cross’s book 40 Brilliant Comedies highly interesting, maybe mainly for its insight in how his Commedia dell’Arte group – i Sebastiani – work, using a more literary and historical opening to the work then I am used to. He is even bringing up the use of Zibaldoni, or side-books as he calls it.

His very generous way of letting us in to their work – not only in rehearsal methods, but also in exercises and games – gives lots of food for new thoughts. I am also fond of John’s liberal ways of looking at Commedia dell’Arte as theatre form free from dogmas in how one “must” or “should” play or interpret to form.

The book is a great teacher’s tool for late primary schools and gymnasiums putting up Commedia dell’Arte plays or teaching history through theatre. The first chapters of the book also give almost a handbook in how their company rehearses and plays Commedia dell’Arte. It is enough material for someone who never played Commedia dell’Arte to start experimenting with it. Here I especially want to mention the chapter on breaking down and building of scenes. I have seen so many armatures having problems with it and not only in Commedia dell’Arte.

I also believe it is a good device for more professional use, but then combined with the original translations of Il Teatro delle Favole Rappresentative since John’s versions are somewhat Disneyfied to fit an American audience.

Using the book for staging the plays one must have in mind that it is, as John also says in the book, interpretations of the scenarios – from what I guess is the stagings of i Sebastiani – and not straight translations from the scenarios. Using the scenarios one may use or not use the simplifications from the book, but they will still make it easier for the ensemble follow the plotline. Both the simplified backstory (or argomento) and the diagrams of relationships are great help for a director, especially in scenarios with lots of mask involved. I am also very fond of the new scene breakdowns. They make things much easier to handle in rehearsals.

As a whole I will recommend this book weather as a compliment for professionals or students in theatre science or as a tool for school students or theatre clubs.

Chiara Durazzini

Chiara Durazzini, Co-founder and Artistic Director of Pazzi Lazzi Troupe, Commedia Movement teacher, former student of Claudia Contin Arlecchino


A brilliant new take on a five-hundred-year-old collection of Flaminio Scala’s “canovacci”, this book is a must-have for those of us who love Commedia dell’Arte, from the exuberant student to the professional actor. Without losing authenticity, Mr. Cross’ detailed analysis of each scenario, which also includes a relationship diagram and improved entrances and exits, renders these timeless plots clearer and more suitable to the contemporary Commedia practitioner and audience.

Paul Draper

Professor Emeritus/ Teacher of Acting, Directing, Theatre History & Director of the Acting Program Sonoma State University


Jay Cross’s comprehensive new book provides clear and approachable descriptions of how commedia dell'arte operates theatrically. Jay describes how both experienced and novice actors can connect with and succeed in performing these marvelous plays. Jay’s details on masks and costuming, props, reading the plays (scenarios), entrances and exits, character types, organizing a performance, and lazzi (such as the lazzo of lying, begging, and eating oneself) are priceless.

Jay's translations of Flaminio Scala’s 16th Century plays in scenario form are expertly organized and readable and are presented as roadmaps for creating performances expanding a troupe or individual actors' creative instincts. Most importantly, the book insists that comedian actors "go big" to become truly expressive performers of this centuries old, still fun style!

Andrew Clough

Actor, part of the team that played these plays


As a member of the same troupe as the author I've been looking forward to this book showing up in my mailbox for a while. I've had a lot of fun performing these and hope that you will too. Somehow I was surprised that the character relationship diagrams I found so helpful when performing these were included in the book but really I shouldn't have been. It contains chapters of good advice on Commedia as well, a lot of which also applies to other comedy.

Catherine C. H. Crow

Actor, English Teacher


I am *so* excited to try these plays with my drama students. Commedia is such a rich and fun theatrical well to draw from, and I think they will really enjoy the opportunity to be completely over-the-top both physically and verbally. Plus, no one needs to memorize lines, which encourages more participation. And (not for nothing) since the plays are as old as Shakespeare's, like Shakespeare's, they're free to produce! The format is easy to understand, and I think kids as young as fifth and sixth graders would easily grasp the plots, the characters, and the humor. This is a great resource for teachers, both as history and as living art. I'm very glad this book exists! It's a wonderful addition to the extant Commedia sources.


Physicist, Author, Teacher, Actor, Acrobat


Commedia dell'arte is a wonderful and fun performance style. It gets actors engaged and teaches them to be in the moment. This book is an excellent resource for any theater practitioner including high school teachers, college professors, and theater companies looking to employ this delightful comedic style.

The book is essentially what its title says: 40 comedies translated from the original Italian and updated for modern sensibilities. Each scenario provides a basic 8-10 page outline for the plot of the play--the comedic devices of which are often hilarious. This includes plot points and character entrances and exits. From there, the actor has the freedom to get creative in both the dialog and how the action plays out. Readers and performers can experience the classical archetypal characters--Pantalone, Harlequin/Zanni, the Lovers, and more--as they would have originally been played. I especially recommend pairing this book with Mel Gordon's "Lazzo", to get a sense of what physical gags you can work into your plays. Finally, the author does an excellent job providing notes for directors including notes on how the plays can be altered to fit casts of a certain size.

If you're a theater company or educator strapped for cash who can't pay expensive royalties for a modern play, I especially recommend this book for you. It will save your budget and allow your performers to showcase their talents while you give the audience something they'll really enjoy. Modern audiences will find these plays much more appealing than staid overdone Shakespearean plays. What's more, with commedia's improv, your actors will be able to put on a unique show every night!

If you really want your performance group to show off its acting chops, then dust off those masks, practice your silly walks, and prepare to woo your lovely mistress, because this book will make it a reality.

A scene from the Commedia dell’Arte played in France before a noble audience
Old Tree Limb
Flying Dragonfly
Old Medicine Show