The Servant of Two Masters
Christopher Bayes directs a contingent of performers who appear to be having a festive and fun time of it for nearly three hours. Constance Congdon has adapted Carlo Goldoni's play while using a Christina Sibul translation. It's a fasten your seat belt type experience from start to furious finish.
During a single day in Venice, maybe many moons ago, Beatrice (Sarah Agnew) comes on the scene to find Florindo (Jesse J. Perez); Beatrice is in disguise as her own brother. She employs Truffaldino (Steven Epp) as her servant. Florindo, could use some help, tooand he also hires Truffaldino. Clarice (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who is the daughter of ridiculous Pantalone (Allen Gilmore), is to marry Silvio (Andy Grotelueschen).
Evidently, a man named Federigo once was promised Clarice as his bride. Others think, though, that Federigo has already been killed. It turns out that he is really Beatrice, in disguise. And so on. Do not fret if you are one, of many, who cannot keep track of plot, identities, and so forth.
This is the very best of show-and-tell theater. Nothing, however, is haphazard. Bayes and his actors forge a precise blend of anarchy and discipline. It's a joy to observe the results. Sometimes, it feels as if the Keystone Kops and many friends are on stage. The performance draws maximum benefit from each prop, song, movement and stunt. The show is clever but does not rely upon cheap gimmickry.
The characters are verbal and physical acrobats, some of whom wear masks. They are quick-witted and appear, at times, to improvise. These are not simpletons. Additionally, they sing well!
Central to the performance is the multi-talented Steven Epp, who plays Truffaldino. Here's a man who is smart enough to feel that he is able to juggle double duty as a servant and make himself some real money. Ultimately, he cannot resist the maid Smeraldina (Liz Wisan, a third year MFA student at Yale School of Drama). She yearns to be married but, by play's end, sees that this might not be quite as euphoric as imagined. Still, it's better than being lonely and wanting.
Three musicians positioned on stage (right) are proactive and essential. The accordionist (who also doubles on drums) adds texture and atmosphere; he cannot keep from smiling from time to time as he observes the company at play.
The Servant of Two Masters, running one comic moment into the next, as interpreted by Bayes, includes just enough touch and feeling. Katherine Akiko Day, the scenic designer, combines her effects with Chuan-Chi Chan's deft lighting to, at times, furnish charming, sweet evening sequences.
In the end, as couples are defined, this becomes a play about love and partnership. At Yale, this journey, however unusual, consistently diverts and entertains.
The Servant of Two Masters continues at the University Theatre (presented by Yale Repertory) in New Haven through April 3rd. For ticket information, call the box office at (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol