Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Servant of Two Masters
Lyric Arts Main Street Stage
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent review of Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything

Katrina Stelk, Kyle Marks, Alex Stokes,
and Brandon Osero

Photo by Molly Weibel
If you feel yourself being blown about while walking past Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka during a performance of The Servant of Two Masters, it won't be a summer storm descending from the clouds, but the gales of laughter so robust that the theater's walls cannot contain them. The play was written by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni in 1746, but it continues to be heartily embraced by audiences for its clever plotting, razor-sharp word play, and the opportunity it gives actors to engage in outsize buffoonery.

In The Servant of Two Masters Goldoni employs the commedia dell'arte style of theater, which had its heyday in Italy during the 1500s and through the 1600s. If the style was already a "throwback," in 1746, it remained popular with Italian audiences. The first version of the play was loosely plotted and scripted, allowing the commedia dell'arte predilection for broad character types to spin the performances with improvisation, with some actors wearing masks to identify their stock character rather than developing unique characterizations.

Goldoni produced a revised version of the play in 1789 that is more plotted and scripted, though still allowing for great liberties in performance, and that is the version in use today. That said, there have been numerous translations and adaptations over the years. The Lyric Arts production uses a 2004 adaptation by American playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and Italian translator and director Paolo Emilio Landi.

Lyric Arts' resident director Scott Ford has staged this Servant, drawing a keen balance between clearly unspooling the convoluted plot and setting free a maelstrom of comic mayhem that makes every moment of the proceedings absolutely delicious. The show, in the Hatcher/Landi adaptation, is set as a "play within a play." This provides a framing structure of a marginally functional travelling troupe performing the Goldoni work, while allowing for anachronistic bon mots, a temperamental leading lady, and an absurd corporate sponsor, complete with a commercial jingle that precedes the second act.

The play proper is set in Venice. Clarice, the daughter of wealthy merchant Pantalone, has just become engaged to her beloved Silvio, son of a Dr. Lombardi. Previously, Clarice was betrothed to Federigo, a distant business contact of Pantalone, but it was reported that Federigo is dead, freeing Clarice to marry for love. Federigo was killed while defending his sister Beatrice's honor against Florindo, the man with whom Beatrice is in love. Florindo, having killed Federigo, flees to Venice. Meanwhile, Beatrice disguises herself as her slain brother and she too goes to Venice, using the guise to demand that "his" marriage to Clarice go forward and hence collect Clarice's dowery, which she will then use to pay for herself and Florinda to get away and be wed. Whew, right?

And the servant? He is named Truffaldino and has attached himself to Beatrice, who he believes to be her dead brother, Federigo. Truffaldino is masked and dressed in a harlequin clown costume, the stock commedia dell'arte depiction of a fool. In fact, he is not much of a servant, forever mixing up his directions, botching up assignments, and obsessing over the hunger in his stomach. When Beatrice leaves him alone outside the inn where she has taken a room, Truffaldino is spotted by newly arrived Florindo, who hires the servant for himself. Truffaldino, hoping that between his two masters he can eventually obtain a square meal, finds himself in a bin.

A good part of the remainder of the play depicts the lunacy with which Truffaldino provides service (or a slight semblance of it) to both Beatrice and Florindo with neither knowing about the other. The pinnacle of this is a madcap scene in which Truffaldino frenetically serves dinner to both masters, each in separate rooms at the same inn as a line of waiters race in and out with the various courses. I have seen the play before, I knew what was coming, and it still had me roaring with laughter.

Based on their performances, you would believe that the entire cast has attended an advanced course on commedia dell'arte, with special attention paid to physical comedy. Oh, they are a marvelous ensemble. Brendan Veerman has the most opportunity to shine, as Truffaldino–and shine he does–but the entire company wins the audience over. I was particularly delighted by Nykeigh Larson's Beatrice, cutting a dashing, faux-manly figure in the guise of her late brother; Katrina Stelk's Clarice, who throws tantrums as if her very body might burst into flame; Alex Stokes' delectable Silvio; and Madison Fairbanks as Clarice's lady-in-waiting, Smeraldina, whose blushing courtship with Truffaldino is a whole other parfait of merriment. I mean no slight to the others in the cast, who are Corey Boe as the innkeeper Brighella, Kyler Chase as Florindo, Kyle Marks as Pantalone, Brandon Osero as Dr. Lombardi, and ensemble members Cate Jackson, Ray L. Kloth-Rodriguez, Charlie Morgan, Andrew Newman, Nate Otto and Michael Quadrozzi. The close timing and sense of comradery among the cast is impressive.

Samantha Fromm Haddow's costume designs offer an inventive array of colorful Renaissance-ready garb. The exquisite commedia dell'arte masks were designed by Katie Kaufmann. In addition to Truffaldino's mask, Pantalone and Dr. Lombardi wear masks, identifying them as vechios, stock characters who are wealthy, self-important old men, and the innkeeper Brighella, a stock working class character.

Michaela Lochen's scenic design is a fairly simple, but offers the flexibility to transform into all of the play's setting, and Lochen's props, which include scores of puddings, roasts, and other delectable dishes for the madcap dining scene, are top drawer. Alyssa Kraft-Campbell's lighting design and Paul Estby's lighting design provide the finishing touches to make everything in this production shine.

I cannot think of a single deep thought imbedded within The Servant of Two Masters, other than the recognition that there is a time for doing without "deep thoughts" and allow ourselves to be elevated by the generous spirit of a band of talented theatre artists working in harmony to put on a show, and by the healthy sound of our own laughter.

The Servant of Two Masters runs through June 23, 2024, at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, 420 East Main Street, Anoka MN. For tickets and information, please call 763-422-1838 or visit

Playwright: Carlo Goldoni, translate and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and Paolo Emilio Landi; Director: Scott Ford; Scenic and Props Design: Michaela Lochen; Costume Design: Samantha Fromm Haddow; Mask Design: Katie Kaufmann; Lighting Design: Alyssa Kraft-Campbell; Sound Design: Paul Estby; Intimacy Director: Callie Aho; Assistant Props Manager: Lauren Lochen; Stage Manager: Jenna Hyde; Assistant Stage Manager: Christian Erben.

Cast: Corey Boe (Brighella), Kyler Chase (Florindo), Madison Fairbanks (Smeraldina), Cate Jackson (ensemble), Ray L. Kloth-Rodriguez (ensemble), Nykeigh Larson (Beatrice), Kyle Marks (Pantalone), Charlie Morgan (Patron/Porter), Andrew Newman (ensemble), Brandon Osero (Dr. Lombardi), Nate Otto (ensemble), Michael Quadrozzi (ensemble), Katrina Stelk (Clarice), Alex Stokes (Silvio), Brendan Veerman (Truffaldino).