The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, adapted by Jenna Ware. Directed by Jenna Ware (fights by Jonathan Croy). Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Colorfully costumed production of Servant of Two Masters: photo: Elizabeth Aspenlieder
". . .and words are scary. . ."
Jennie M. Jadow as Truffaldino; photo: Elizabeth Aspenlieder
In Jenna Ware's adapatation of Carlo Goldoni's 1743 three act (ten scene) comedy there are still ten scenes, but the single-act, one hour and twenty minute edition of the play has been turned into a farcical marathon race of a piece that both entertains and confuses its audience. The young cast at Shakespeare and Company, inhabiting the Rose Footprint tent theater, give it all they've got, and thensome. A play of confusions, more are added in this cross-dressing edition as women play men while one major character is deliberately doing the same thing: Beatrice Rasponi is pretending to be her late brother Federigo Rasponi. She is doing this in order to collect a dowry owed Federigo so that she can search for his murderer who also happens to be her lover. Got that? Move on, then.
Meanwhile five male characters are being played by young women. One male character is changed into a female character and is being played, thankfully, by a woman. It gets to be a case of "you can't tell the players without a program" and luckily you have a program at this show. One character has also been replaced by the house manager at the theater, Eric Corbett Williams, who makes an on-stage appearance in a two-line role.
Ware's script has added more songs than usual and one, a hilarious Calypso song, contains a chorus line of supporters, played by principals who have not changed out of their regular costumes and so it would seem to be the characters and not the cast converting themselves into choristers. A bit confusing when that happens.
Individually the cast does a wonderful job with this mayhem. As the title character (male played by female) we have Jennie M. Jadow who carries on in a manic manner even when declaring his love for Smeraldina (also played by a woman). Jadow never loses her bisexual image and though she plays the role with a grand physicality, there is always something a touch female about her male-servant. She is fun in the part but hard to accept at face value for her role is decidedly butch and bullish.
As her lover, Smeraldina, there is the very funny Caitlin Kraft. Kraft takes her "asides" - those special lines tossed directly at the audience - and hurls them over the lip of the stage. As the only actor doing this she is very much out of kilter with the rest of the cast, but even so it was wonderful to watch her do it. She has a face that could sink a dozen ships in this play and she makes the most of the ungainly aspects of her character (female playing female).
Sara Holt plays the disguised Beatrice and she handles all aspects of her role well including her duel which comes as a surprise. Her return to femininity was not a long trip and she still manages to pull off her dead brother's role quite easily.
Pantalone, mother (script says father) of the young heroine bride-to-be, is played with great gusto and joy by Concetta Russo. This sex-changed role suits her well and she has a lot of fun playing it. Barby Cardillo plays the intended groom's father (woman playing man) and she carries this off rather well, her dark-toned voice lending itself to the actor's deception.
Kudos to Ally Allen whose constant belly-flops deserve special applause for her role as the bride - Clarice. Adam Huff playing the male role of Florindo, lover of Beatrice, was not the romantic lead I would have hoped for, but he played his part well in spite of not being the perfect specimin he might usually be in other productions. Tyisha Turner is brilliantly quick and comic as the inn-keeper (female as male) Brighella. Her gender-bending role made some of her lines seem erotic where once they were just a bit phlegmatic.
Everyone does everything in this show, sometimes together sometimes apart. It is an exhausting experience for both players and viewers so be prepared. You laugh a lot and you are gently moved at the ending.
This is not an easy program for the theatrically uninitated. I heard a lot adults trying to explain the show to the kids with them. I actually heard a fair of number of adults explaing the play to one another. It's an easy-breezy 82 minutes with a ruptured classic comedy and the scthick about food and hunger works as well today as it did in 1743. What more can be said?
The Servant of Two Masters plays in the Rose Footprint Theater on the campus of Shakespeare and Company located at 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA. For information and tickets contact the box office at 413-637-3353 or go on line to www.shakespeare.org.