Double the fun
The Servant of Two Masters
Jackson, CA 95642
Swashbuckling abounds at Main Street Theatre Works, where in recent years the specialty has been lively, large-cast, family-oriented costumed melodrama, plays that are rooted in a classic from the 19th century. They’ve done Treasure Island, Around the World in 80 Days and The Three Musketeers, all of which featured some degree of swordplay, chivalry, derring-do and several good-looking young male actors flexing their muscles.
So the company’s current production of The Servant of Two Masters—a classic from the 18th century, and not a swashbuckler—comes as a welcome and interesting change of pace. The script is playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s contemporary adaptation of the Italian commedia dell’arte classic originated by Carlo Goldoni. It may be familiar locally, since City Theatre at Sacramento City College staged this play in the relatively recent past.
Those familiar with commedia dell’arte know to expect lots of cheeky humor involving dimwitted upper-class twits who are repeatedly outmaneuvered by their clever, quick-thinking servants. Those servants are so deft that they somehow manage to remain on their masters’ good sides in spite of everything. Throw in an arranged betrothal that needs to be circumvented, plus an unauthorized romance (replete with bawdy gestures), as well as a plucky woman who dresses as a man in order to get what she wants, plus some impromptu juggling of dinner plates—and you’ve got the general idea.
The playwright’s twist is to hybridize that venerable Italian style with American vaudeville fixings and trimmings. The upper-class twits often start to exit in the wrong direction, and are immediately (and earnestly) corrected by their servants. There are also abundant sound cues to underline the action (drumbeats, fanfares, bells and “zingers”), and some highly physical comedy that recalls the era of silent film—like a frantic scene in which a two-timing servant is trying to deliver dinner to both of his unsuspecting masters at the same time. Film buffs recognize these moves as reminiscent of the physical comedy of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
Slender young Brent Randolph (a student at American River College, and one of the swordsmen in last summer’s production of Three Musketeers) gives a high-energy, adrenaline-driven performance as Truffaldino, the constantly hungry servant who decides to double his income by working for two masters, both of whom are unaware that he’s moonlighting. Randolph turns a cartwheel; beats himself senseless with a slapstick; and periodically laughs like a madman, ad-libbing on occasion.
Carissa Meagher, a recent graduate of Natomas Charter School, plays Clarice as ballerina, lampooning dance moves as her on-and-off romance with the tall, self-absorbed Silvio (Brandon Lancaster) plays out. Stout, stocky Nick Maggio has fun as the officious scholar Dr. Lombardi, and his short stature is a comic contrast to Lancaster’s lanky height as Lombardi’s son Silvio. Diminutive Julie Anchor wears a fake mustache and tries to emulate a man twice her size as she plays Beatrice, who is impersonating her late brother Federigo.
Director Susan McCandless and assistant director Allen Pontes unleash ceaseless activity and tongue-in-cheek humor. Occasionally, the tongue gets stuck in the cheek, but for the most part, this very silly show manages to dance on the edge with success, if not restraint.