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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Servant of Two Masters

Also see Susan's review of The Music Man

Servant of Two Masters
Steven Epp
The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, is presenting a stylish and effervescent production of The Servant of Two Masters. Playwright Carlo Goldoni's 1744 script builds on the foundation of commedia dell'arte—a stylized, largely improvised form of comedy that uses stock characters, masks, and wild humor—and Christopher Bayes' direction brings the antique form into the modern age. Contemporary playwright Constance Congdon crafted the adaptation of the script.

The Servant of Two Masters demonstrates that, despite its long pedigree and foreign name, commedia dell'arte remains accessible and, in fact, forms the basis of many modern types of entertainment, from clowning to improvisational theater. (Another recent adaptation of Goldoni's play, One Man, Two Guvnors, is a Broadway hit following its success in London.)

The matchless physical clown Steven Epp is Truffaldino, the hapless (and constantly hungry) servant of a swashbuckling young "man" (Rachel Spencer Hewitt) recently arrived in Venice. When that master is away, Truffaldino signs on to work for another hothead, Florindo (Jesse J. Perez), leading to widespread confusion involving two betrothed couples and two apoplectic fathers.

Of course, that plot is just the backbone; much of the humor comes from topical and regional references (both Congress and The Music Man are currently in session in Washington), nifty acrobatic bits and sight gags (a stuffed turkey!), and moments of impromptu singing and dancing to the live music by Chris Curtis and Aaron Halva. More than that, the interaction between performers and the audience obliterates any "fourth wall" separating them.

The rest of the company is just as accomplished as Epp: Allen Gilmore and Don Darryl Rivera as Pantalone (the doddering old man) and Il Dottore (a ponderous fellow who thinks he knows more than he does); overly emotional lovers Silvio (pudgy-faced Andy Grotelueschen) and Clarice (large, enthusiastic Danielle Brooks); Hewitt and Perez, who have something important in common besides employing the same servant; Smeraldina (Liz Wisan), Clarice's down-to-earth maid; and Liam Craig in two knockabout roles.

Katherine Akiko Day has created a scenic design that looks slapdash while incorporating lots of subtle touches. Chuan-Chi Chan's lighting design provides moments of magic—and one or two belly laughs—while Valérie Thérèse Bart's costumes follow the commedia tradition with some flourishes, specifically Truffaldino's multicolor suit and Clarice's ruffled petticoats that make her resemble a wedding cake.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Servant of Two Masters
May 15th - July 8th
By Carlo Goldoni, adapted by Constance Congdon from a translation by Christina Sibul
Il Dottore: Don Darryl Rivera
Smeraldina: Liz Wisan
Pantalone: Allen Gilmore
Brighella/Porter: Liam Craig
Silvio: Andy Grotelueschen
Clarice: Danielle Brooks
Truffaldino: Steven Epp
Beatrice: Rachel Spencer Hewitt
Florindo: Jesse J. Perez
Waiters: Paul Edward Hope, Paul Reisman
Directed by Christopher Bayes
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


Photo: Richard Termine


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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