Friday, Jun 23, 2017

The Servant of Two Masters (2009)

Photo by Jenny Graham

Photo by Jenny Graham

Paul Nicholson was asked at a press event what the must-see production of the season was. Mr. Nicholson gave the “correct” answer, of course – “all of them”. Yes yes, true enough, but I don’t work with any of these people and I can afford to step on some toes. The must-see production of 2009 is The Servant of Two Masters, one of the most entertaining theatrical experiences I’ve ever seen.

Ostensibly an 18th Century play by Carlo Goldoni, the company has embraced the commedia dell’arte form for this production, making every effort to evoke a company of actors with a “let’s put on a show!” spirit. Makeshift costumes and props, chatting with the audience, improvised pop culture references physical comedy and juggling are all embraced fearlessly in the service of pure entertainment. The original songs by Paul James Prendergast are all clever and solidly composed, and if the musical performances have a rough quality to them that only reinforces the off-the-cuff sensibility of the production.

The titular star of the show is Mark Bedard as Truffaldino, a natural raconteur who presides over the chaos of the production with a flustered flap of his arms when in character and a smirking insouciance when out of it. (The night that I saw him he riffed extensively with a thoroughly engaged audience.) The story, briefly, focuses on his ill-conceived plan to score a burnished reputation, and double helpings at lunchtime, by serving two different noblemen. Those two noblemen, in turn, are involved in a romantic triangle… well, rectangle, really, and one of the noblemen is actually a noblewoman; this portion of the show, at least, will be comfortable ground for longtime consumers of Shakespearean theater.

Truffaldino, in classic commedia style, is perpetually scheming for his own pleasures; meanwhile, mismatched and star-crossed lovers maneuver around Truffaldino and each other until, voila!, satisfaction (if not fulfilled desires) all around. Notable among the mostly-strong performances are Kjerstine Rose Anderson’s Clarice as one of the innamorati or young lovers and Kate Mulligan as the cross-dressing, lover-hunting Beatrice. Ms. Anderson’s vapid Clarice is so uniformly daft that only a shrewd actress could possibly keep her sympathetic. Likewise for Ms. Mulligan, who manages to inject juuuuust enough actual humanity in her character to keep the play from devolving into pure charade – I may be alone in this, but when all I’m fed is relentless comedy I get worn out before the show is over, leaving the last few scenes an interminable chore. None of that here, and her Beatrice is a prime reason why. Also of note is a charasmatic, affable performance by Elijah Alexander who is due to assume the role of Henry VIII on the Elizabethan Stage this summer – his Florindo here bodes well for that play.