The typically Venetian mask from the Commedia dell'Arte, played by a singular and elderly merchant with a frank dialectal way of speaking. He is often depicted with a bag of money, called bezzi or palanche in the Venetian language, which highlights a part of his personality: wealth that is sometimes pushed to avarice.
Among the masks of the Commedia dell'Arte, Pantalon de 'Bisognosi is the Venetian. A man who has lived his life and now most certainly old. With his hooked nose, red costume and black cape he embodies the character of the merchants who planted the Lion of Venice in every corner of the Eastern Mediterranean.
For Pantalone, parsimony can quickly turn into avarice, senile tenderness into lust, but also and above all, sternness into understanding. However, outside the value system of Theatre of Art, in which each mask has a decisive regional and social connotation (Pantalone is the Venetian master who speaks in the Venetian dialect and the Zanni or Arlecchino are the servants who, coming from the hinterland, express themselves in a rustic dialect), it is difficult to find any element of historical accuracy in this mask, except in the sixteenth-century town clothing.
Still very appreciated by the public all over the world, the Commedia dell'Arte seems to have long since reached its terminus in Italy and Venice in particular, where it is re-enacted by some amateur or semi-professional companies, but a public intervention would be necessary to defend what is still left of the tradition (at least in archives and libraries). The fact is that except for rare exceptions, or the presence of great actors (such as Dario Fo in the Festival of the Biennial – Theater in 1985), actors who wish to study the masks of the Commedia dell'Arte must go to the transalpine mime schools, as did the past Harlequins of Giorgio Strehler, such as Mario Moretti and Ferruccio Soleri.
But Pantalone is different: the mask has an unsteady gait, and often seeks security in the stick while looking around suspiciously, and what matters most are his words, which can sometimes be very sharp, especially towards young people and women. Therefore, for a Pantalone to be a worthy heir to Cesco Baseggio and Nico Pepe he must be played by an actor who has been locally trained. Born in Udine in 1907 and later passed away at the age of eighty, Pepe is considered a true missionary of Art Theater, to which he dedicated great stage performances up to the very end of his life, dragging a chest filled with masks from town to town, just like the leaders of theatre companies once did.
Discovered in 1947 by Strehler for his memorable edition of Arlecchino in Arlecchino servitore di due padroni (The servant of Two Masters) by Goldoni, Pepe worked on the mask of Pantalone without rest, bringing the interpretation to perfection, but without creating a student worthy of his master's name. Moreover, the relationship between the latest-generation actors with the masked types seems to be have been difficult or at least problematic - when Giorgio Strehler proposed that Paolo Rossi take over from Soleri with a new representation of Arlecchino, the actor only accepted on condition that he could act the part with his face uncovered. The answer did not convince the great director and the project did not go ahead.