A Yale Repertory production brings together Theatre de la Jeune Lune alums on the Guthrie stage for some 18th century slapstick ridden with contemporary references.
“The Servant of Two Masters” was written in the 18th century by Venetian Carlo Goldoni in the popular Commedia dell’Arte style. The work was then adapted by Constance Congdon, with additional revising by actor/playwright Steven Epp and director Christopher Bayes.
Critics find this play to be a romp, but more than one complains it’s a bit “overstuffed.”
The cast of “The Servant of Two Masters”
Photo by Richard Termine
Holy moley these artists are terrific…Here’s what makes this cast so good: despite the over-the-top histrionics, the improvised anarchy, each character has an honest center to which they remain true. This makes everyone watchable; in lesser hands The Servant Of Two Masters would be self-indulgent to an extreme. This is some of the best acting in the area, ever. You could summarize the plot on a paper napkin; the prowess of the performers makes this play.
To call this production an adaptation… is akin to calling a skeleton a person. The cast dances on the bare bones of Goldoni’s story — using the plot more as a road map to some zany destination — and if the staging cracks a few ribs with its commedia dell’arte stomp, so much the better. From the opening moment, when a starry canopy is flung into the dark stage firmament, this show constantly reveals invention — the imaginative plunge into fearless stagecraft and complete trust in the performer’s creativity. In the bargain, Bayes accomplishes true art, masquerading as mindless comedy.
“The Servant of Two Masters” runs through January 20 at the Guthrie Theater
Photo by Richard Termine
The text is jammed with dozens of pop-culture references, from “Sanford and Son” and “Gangnam Style” to “The Wizard of Oz,” Adele and the “fiscal cliff.” Local icons and institutions are targeted, too, with Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and even the Guthrie itself serving on the butt end of jokes.
But it’s too much of a good thing. It’s not a matter of the in-jokes getting in the way of the story — there’s not that much story to get in the way of. Rather, the ceaseless rapid-fire jokes tend to impart a faint whiff of desperation, a we’re-dancing-as-fast-as-we-can vibe that hints at a lack of confidence in the material or the production. At one point in all the mania, Epp’s Truffaldino stops, turns to the audience and asks, “Is this really the play?” It’s a legitimate question.
“The Servant of Two Masters” runs through January 20 at the Guthrie Theater. Have you seen it? What’s your review?