Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

The Servant Of Two Masters

As the saying goes, everything old will become new again. And nowhere is that more evident that in the arts where themes, characters and styles constantly are recycled from century to century. Take, for example, Carlo Goldoni's classic farce The Servant Of Two Masters, currently being performed at Seattle's Intiman Theatre. Written in the 18th century by one of Italy's greatest playwrights, The Servant Of Two Masters is itself a recycling of stock commedia dell 'arte characters and story lines from the 16th century (which, in turn, were recycled from early Greek comedies; and who knows where they found them). Goldoni, often regarded as 18th-century Italy's answer to Molière, transformed and codified the largely improvisational slapstick street theater tradition of commedia plays into a semblance of a plot which encompasses social satire and more penetrating character portraits. An adaptation by Constance Congdon (from a translation by Christina Sibul) brings some of the humor up to date, but the form and style are strictly rooted in the past.

The play takes you back in time from the moment the houselights fade to black. A lovely unamplified soprano voice sings in Italian. A man resembling a colonial lamplighter lights the candles that serve as 'footlights.' Performers in 18th century opulent costumes are seen in the dim light preparing for their entrances. And when they do make their way to the stage-within-a-stage that is the set, all comedic hell breaks loose! The word 'zany,' after all, has its origins with a character type from the commedia oeuvre, and is a fitting description to this production.

Dan Donohue and R. Hamilton Wright
The plot of The Servant Of Two Masters is as convoluted as it is paper-thin. Pantalone (oddly underplayed by Jeff Steizer) intended his daughter Clarice (dulcet voiced Patti Cohenour back to playing an ingenue) to marry Federigo Rasponi of Turin. Clarice, however, loves the dashing hothead and slightly addled Silvio Lombardi (Jason Cottle). The course of true love looks smooth, as it appears that Federigo has gotten himself killed in a duel. But all is not well as Truffaldino, better known as Arlecchino, (played with gusto by Dan Donohue) arrives on the eve of their nuptial bliss to announce that his master, Federigo, is not only alive but waiting downstairs. Of course, in the manner of classic farce, it is really Federigo's sister, Beatrice (played with a delightful swagger by Elisabeth Adwin) in disguise, who is searching for money and her lover, Florindo (the suave, wonderfully over the top and impressively voiced Frank Corrado). From thence the mayhem ensues with mistaken identities and more food jokes than an elementary school lunchroom, as Truffaldino attempts to double his wages and his caloric intake by serving both Beatrice and Florindo, all the while wooing Smeraldina (Jane Jones), a servant with very strong ideas on sex and class struggles.

While the show has a few moments of dead weight, the majority of it ranges from highly amusing to downright side splitting. To see the puffed up, egotistical Il Dottore (the ever enjoyable Laurence Ballard) literally deflate and re-inflate himself with his own hot air in a heated exchange with Pantalone is truly a sight to behold. And one can not even begin to describe Truffaldino's attempt at re-sealing a letter (let's just say it involves semi-digested bread, string, and fluids you dare not even contemplate). And R. Hamilton Wright, who plays the innkeeper, Brighella, as the Godfather by way of Martin Short, comes close to stealing the show from all of them.

The costumes by Kim Krumm Sorenson are a vision of 18th century elegance and help recreate a long vanished theatrical world. They, and the set by Douglas Stein, are enhanced by a dim wash of candle-esque lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Bartlett Sher, who directed Servant previously at Hartford Stage, has created a finely crafted ensemble that appears to be having a delightful time, and their shenanigans should only get zanier as the run continues.

The Servant Of Two Masters runs through October 27th at Intiman Theatre. For more information visit

Photo: Chris Bennion

- Jonathan Frank