A campy, happy romp, just perfect for a New York City beset with dread
By Joel Benjamin
The Theatre for a New Audience’s new production of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters is a wondrous thing, a campy, happy romp just perfect for a New York City beset with feelings of dread.
Goldoni’s commedia-tinged farce has been adapted—leaving plenty of space for improvisation—by Constance Congdon and directed by Christopher Bayes who is barely able to keep the actors from flying into space. This production hews to the totally absurd plot of the original but expands into contemporary commentary with remarks about Trump, Hillary, Hamilton, New York City, Trump, sex, cultural icons, Trump, etc.
The convoluted plot centers around the eponymous servant of the title, Truffaldino played by the unquenchable and brilliant Steven Epp who, even masked, has charisma to spare. He arrives in a colorful Venice with Beatrice (Liz Wisan, calm, but somehow still engagingly passionate) disguised as her murdered brother, Federigo, his first master, in order to collect a dowry from the aged fool, Pantalone (Allen Gilmore, whose extraordinary physical prowess nearly stole the show). The dead Federigo was engaged to Pantalone’s pretty, but scatterbrained daughter, Clarice (Adina Verson, portraying a lovely combination of addled and obsessive behavior), who, believing Federigo has died, has fallen for another, Silvio (Eugene Ma, whose boyishness grows on you). The appearance of the ersatz Federigo complicates things for the betrothed couple, particularly for Silvio’s father, Dottore (Andy Grotelueschen, who does bombast to perfection)who also wanted the dowry.
Meanwhile, the dashing Florindo (a smoothly egotistical, swaggering Orlando Pabotoy), Beatrice’s beloved and the murderer of her brother, appears and inadvertently takes on the always-famished Truffaldino as his servant. Truffaldino, hoping that serving another master might finally mean a decent meal, has no qualms about being both loyal and disloyal to two bosses. Nevertheless, he is constantly thwarted until a brilliantly choreographed dinner attended by both his masters, making for much expertly timed slapstick.
From then on bizarre complications involve letters that get to the wrong people, unrequited love requited, mistaken identities, juggling, gymnastics and a stage full of actors moving so fast as to become blurs.
Of course, all ends well. Even Truffaldino finds love, if not food, in servant girl Smeraldina (a lusty Emily Young, whose stylized physicality is hilarious).
Of course, it’s not the silly plot, but the execution of it that counts and these actors pour everything they have into bringing these characters to life. They are helped by the stage-within-a-stage of scenic designer, Katherine Akiko Day who also, in corroboration with lighting designer Chuan-Chi Chan, strung colorful, starry lights throughout the theater. The costumes of Valérie Thérèse Bart are a show in themselves, complex, colorful and character perfect, working perfectly with the hair and makeup of Dave Bova.
The music of Aaron Halva and Christopher Curtis was saucy, rhythmic and totally happy.
This is a production that should move to Broadway. It is, by far, the most entertaining show in New York City and deserves to be seen.
The Servant of Two Masters (through December 4, 2016)
Theatre for a New Audience/Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Place (between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue) Brooklyn, NY
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.tfana.org
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission
Photos: Gerry Goodstein