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The Servant of Two Masters

[The following review appeared in the Denver Post on July 19th.]

The normally invisible line that runs through Western theatre from medieval passion plays to Italian Renaissance commedia dell'arte to contemporary theatre is delightfully illuminated in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's current production of Carlo Goldoni's classic The Servant of Two Masters.

Mixing traditional stock characters, sublimated masks, improvisation, and topical references, director Scott Schwartz fully leverages Christina Sibul's lucid translation and Constance Congdon's fresh adaptation and turns this Commedia masterpiece into a living marvel.

Saralyn Leffel as waiter, John Plumpis as Truffaldino, and Alexandra Lewis as waiter
Saralyn Leffel as waiter,
John Plumpis as Truffaldino,
and Alexandra Lewis as waiter
Photo: Larry Harwood,
University of Colorado Photo Department
In traditional Commedia, servants often exchanged roles with their masters, but in Goldoni's version, generally considered the first non-improvisational, fully-scripted of the genre, the plot is turned inside out: Truffaldino, a poor servant with a big appetite, contracts himself to two masters, each paying him a salary.

Sarah Fallon as Beatrice and Bob Buckley as Pantalone
Sarah Fallon as Beatrice
and Bob Buckley as Pantalone
Photo: Larry Harwood,
University of Colorado Photo Department



That his two masters are the engaged, but tragically separated, young lovers (Florindo and Beatrice), doubles the fun, which is exponentially multiplied by the lascivious maid (Smeraldina) who turns Truffaldino's head, the fathers of the betrothed—doddering Pantalone and pompous Il Dottore—and a lusty chef, Brighella, whose elaborate presentations include two heartily proportioned waitresses and desserts that match their assets.

Stephen Weitz as Brighella, Alan Henkin as Silvio, Emily Van Fleet as Clarice, and William C. Kovacsik as Il Dottore
Stephen Weitz as Brighella,
Alan Henkin as Silvio,
Emily Van Fleet as Clarice,
and William C. Kovacsik as Il Dottore
Photo: Larry Harwood,
University of Colorado Photo Department
A mischievous John Plumpis mines the scripted asides and cleverly synchronized mayhem to ingratiate Truffaldino to the audience, while he digs an ever-deeper hole for himself on stage by lying to both his employers. When a timely wind rushed through the lovely outdoor amphitheatre, Plumpis proceeded to enlist audience members to hold the torn scraps of paper—a letter of credit that Beatrice has given him to secure, which he has shredded—that he is using to explain to Brighella how to properly locate the entrees on a table. A natural act to be sure, but one that delightfully highlighted the traditional Commedia feel of the production and underscored Truffaldino's resourcefulness at staying afloat in a topsy-turvy world.

Richard Theriot as Florindo and Alan Henkin as Silvio
Richard Theriot as Florindo
and Alan Henkin as Silvio
Photo: Larry Harwood,
University of Colorado
Photo Department
Truffaldino arrives in town with his master, Federigo—actually the disguised Beatrice, Federigo's sister—who is seeking to claim the dowry from her dead brother's former betrothed, Clarice. Clarice, who following Federigo's death has fallen in love with Silvio, is horrified that Federigo has apparently been resurrected: she does not love him because she was forced into that relationship by her father. Truffaldino takes on Federigo as a second client, secrets are exchanged all around, impersonations and insinuations abound, and the fun never stops.

Sarah Fallon, who has made a summer habit of snappy performances in trousers roles, once again has it both ways, plying her considerable talents as the noble Federigo and the passionate Beatrice. Richard Theriot's Florindo is true to his name—florid with courtly embellishments and self-possessed "voguing"—smartly mocking aristocratic pretensions while placing himself as the centerpiece of every tableau.

While Truffaldino ostensibly serves two masters, it is Pantalone (Bob Buckley) who intrinsically illustrates the derivation of the play's title—from Jesus' admonition that one cannot serve two masters, God and mammon—by putting money over love in the marriage of his daughter, Clarice. Buckley's polished, hyperbolic performance lends both dignity and ignominy to Pantalone's intentions.

John Plumpis as Truffaldino and Maria-Christina Oliveras as Smeraldina
John Plumpis as Truffaldino
and Maria-Christina Oliveras
as Smeraldina
Photo: Larry Harwood,
University of Colorado
Photo Department
In a wry slap at learned pomposity and ceremonious posturing, William C. Kovacsik tosses off Latin phrases like street curses as Il Dottore, while his son, Alan Henkin's young buck, Silvio, is swept up in the tottering emotions of the adolescent male milieu. Emily Van Fleet (Clarice), who wowed us as Dorothy in last year's The Wizard of Oz at Boulder's Dinner Theatre, owns the melodramatic moments that extend the daffiness of the production to further comedic heights. Stephen Weitz' Brighella is a tasty recipe of self-aggrandizing chef and sensual lover, while Maria-Christina Oliveras' Smeraldina is the saucy hot tomato.

Clare Henkel's sparkling costumes, mixing period Venetian, contemporary urban, and whimsical elements, echo the overall stylistic spectrum. Robert H. Abe's sound design punctuates each stylistic send-up. Kudos to Schwartz and his team for such a well-conceived and vibrant revival of this timeless farce.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of The Servant of Two Masters runs in repertory with All's Well That Ends Well, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer-Night's Dream, and Around the World in 80 Days through August 17th. 303-492-0554.

Bob Bows

 

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