The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, translated and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and Paolo Emilio Landi
Let the Revels Begin....but Definitely!!
Lydia Barnett-Mulligan and Grant Haywood; photo: Kevin Sprague
By J. Peter Bergman
Need I say that I am a sucker, an absolute sucker, for outrageous, slapstick comedy? Any and all doubts on that subject would be assuaged watching me watch this play in the Rose Footprint Theatre at Shakespeare & Company. This hoot-'n'-holler version of Goldoni's XXX play is an utterly entertaining diversion from the minute you reach the theater. Cast members greet you out on the lawn, ask you questions, inform you that a five and a half hour version of Hamlet is about to begin - highly funny as that play makes its official debut on the property in one week (watch for that review). The Master of the Revels, played by Jeff Newman warms up the audience and before you know it the battle is on: Shakespeare or Goldoni; Hamlet of Servant.
It's a good thing that Servant of Two Masters wins the battle. It started out as a silly, bawdy comedy and that's exactly what this summer is asking for - something totally outrageous, unself-conscious, miraculously tender at moments and absolutely worth two trips to the Lenox to see. The show is performed in two one-act sections, either Wednesday and Friday at 6:15PM or Saturday at 1:15 and 6:15. I thought this concept odd, but the physical comedy calls for a break, both for the actors and the audience. Two hours and twentyfive minutes of this non-stop could wreck us all, everyone.
The cast, and there's not a clinker in the bunch, are amazing: Jacquelyn Leanna Antonson as Deputy Master of the Revels could not be funnier; Lydia Barnett-Mulligan as Clarice, the ingenue, is over-the-top funny; Michael Burnet makes Truffaldino the most worthy title character in history; Grant Haywood is both dashing and dashed as Silvio, the juvenile lead; David Joseph is simply silly and slyly sleazy as the hero, Florindo; Jeffrey Kent is the plu-perfect Pantalone; Karen Lee makes Brighella the most passionate center of attention possible in her brief scenes; Jeff Newman rules; Sam Reiff-Pasarew as Doctor Lombardi can cry "Dead!" like no man alive; Catherine Taylor-Williams handles both sides of her personality like a recovering mental patient - and that's really funny, folks; Julie Webster's Smeraldina almost steals the show with petulance and pep. That's the company.
Under the direction of Dan McCleary this company rants, raves, roves the audience, stage and field, performs acrobatic feats, juggles, sings, responds from off-stage while making costume changes, reacts to each other, to us and to the impulse of names and places culled from the audience members and regurgitates much of the first act (one hour and six minutes long) in an eight minute prologue to the second act (including the replaying of an hysterical scene with food which ends the first part. If you miss part one, you can get caught up in no time, but always see act one. It's not as wonderful an experience without it.
While I am tempted to cite highlights, I really shouldn't because its not fair to give even one of them away. There are hilarious lines which, quoted out of context and without the highly stylized performance voices, won't sound as funny as they are: "He's an enigma wrapped in a conundrum," for example, or "It's not the suffering I mind, it's the pain of the suffering," or "Fear not father, I've fought finer foes." Taken without the salty tears and silty situations that surround them they are merely clever lines. Delivered by Julie Webster, Lydia Barnett-Mulligan and Catherine Taylor they are howlers.
There are visual moments of outrageous delight including a double suicide which had the audience in stitches and a scene with two trunks. Another unforgettable moment of hilarity involves a duel in which one character is seemingly impaled through the crotch - an actual laugh reaction that would make those laugh-track users in TV studios envious. Still they work best when seen and not written about.
Performed free of charge - although contributions are actively sought - and worth every penny and more, this could be the comic highlight of the Berkshire season. Not to be missed.
◊ 07-01-06 ◊
Act One Finale; photo: Kevin Sprague
Catherine Taylor-Williams, Michael Burnet and David Joseph; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Servant of Two Masters is performed outdoors in the Rose Footprint Theater on the property at Shakespeare & Company at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, MA. Part of their free Outdoor Bankside Festival, there is no admission but tickets are necessary and available through the box office. Part One is performed on Wednesdays at 6:15 and Saturdays at 1:15; Part Two is performed on Fridays and Saturdays at 6:15. Performances continue through August 26. For tickets and information call 413-637-3353 or check their website at www.shakespeare.org.