A Servant of Two Masters serves up
A Servant of Two Masters, written by Carlo Goldoni in the Eighteenth century, fits right into the colorful 1930s Venetian movie set that fills the stage. Although language and nuance may change a bit with time, the essence of what is funny never will. Clever slaves, silly masters, multiple love intrigues, the promise of a happy ending-in short, the defining factors of comedy-will always conjure up laughs.
The director of the play, theater professor Davis Robinson, noted that comedic "[comedic] situations are immortal." Goldoni's comedia, one of the few that was written down during his time, stemmed from an art form that thrived on pure improvisation. The actors "had a page or two of plot," but besides that, they pretty much winged it up on stage, depending on their wit and their involvement in the dilemmas of the characters to carry them through. Comedia was performed in the market place, and usually starred stock characters of the new comedy genre; characters that were well-known and well-loved by all audience members.
The actors in this production deliver lines from Goldoni's script but simultaneously must try to mimic the improvisational vigor of the original Comedia. "While performing comedy," said Robinson, "you get a sense that you are always improvising." Actors must react to the moment, to the audience, and to other actors on stage. "The lines are not brilliant gems. It's all about how they're spun. Comedy is a constant quest for spontaneity. It makes people laugh because it is in the moment-it is real."
Not only does the director know what audiences want, the actors do also. Michael Wood '06 plays the part of the clever slave, Truffaldino, to perfection. Ellen Powers '06 is scrumptiously ditsy as the lover Clarice. Marcus Pearson '05 runs around the stage with a sword stuck in his pants as Silvio, Clarice's goofy counterpart. Most importantly, however, none of the actors are playing to be funny. They inhabit their parts and, by doing so, they cannot help but be risible. "As long as actors are focusing on the situations and aren't trying to be funny, they will be funny," commented Robinson.
The players must truly appear to believe in the importance of their dilemmas for the comedic effects of the play to fall into place. Indeed, this production hits the mark. Even though the plot is predictable, the audience is kept in enough suspence to remain intrigued by the action unfolding on stage. Will Beatrice's true identity be discovered? Will Clarice end up with Silvio? Will the clever slave, Truffaldino, get rewarded despite his trickery and tomfoolery? It is comedy-the answer, of course, must be yes, yes, and yes. But the pleasure derived from accompanying the characters through difficulties that will surely be resolved in everyone's favor is unbeatable. That is the charm of comedy.
The version of the play being performed is relatively new, having been written by Tom Cone for a performance in 1980 at the Stratford Festival in Canada. Robinson, however, tried to give the production a hint of the Marx Brothers, a dash of Laurel and Hardy, and the kind of artificiality that was practically a trademark of the 1930s comedy movie genre. Besides the performers, it was also clear that those behind the scenes had gotten into the heady aspects of comedy. Crew member extraordinaire Adrienne Heflich '05 noted that "there is humor in every aspect of the production: even the props get a chuckle." In short, if you miss seeing this production, you'll be missing a chance at experiencing a seamless comedy-in terms of acting, props, and scenery.
A Servant of Two Masters will be playing November 7, 8, and 9 at 8:00 p.m. in Pickard Theater. The Production is being sponsored by the Department of Theater and Dance of Bowdoin College.