The scene is set with Pantalone chatting up old chum Ottavio on behalf of Ottovio’s son, Florindo, recently booted from home after a quarrel with stepmom, Beatrice. Ottavio holds the belief that a happy home is giving in to whatever Beatrice wants, including the estrangement of his son and signing over the family fortune to Beatrice and hers.
The only thing standing in Beatrice’s way, and the only thing keeping abandoned and destitute Florindo (who, frankly, isn’t capable of functioning on his own in the world) from starving to death is valiant and loyal Corallina. As hero to Beatrice’s villain, Corallina vows to not only expose Beatrice and get Florindo home again but to get him the heart of his love, Rosaura along the way.
I’m of two minds about Odyssey Theatre’s production of The Amorous Servant. I believe that for the curious and new(ish) patrons to Odyssey Theatre and/or commedia dell’arte, you will leave smiling and happily entertained. But while the Amorous Servant should still prove entertaining for frequent, repeat Odyssey patrons, it will likely not go down as anybody’s favourite.
The Amorous Servant, while written in Italy some centuries ago, has themes that run universal, and remain relatable today. Everybody will recognize the core story of the manipulative gold-digging stepmother hoping to see her husband in an early grave after a few changes to the will. Pair that with some of the elements of a Hollywood rom-com and you have The Amorous Servant.
This relatability establishes a relaxed comfort zone for patrons who might be new to the commedia stylings of Odyssey Theatre, as well as offers a much more direct storyline compared to the intricate, twisted, frenetic plots typically seen.
Regrettably, the equally intricate, twisted, frenetic pace and physicality that also comes as part of the standard package seems to have been stepped down some. For the first time I can remember at an Odyssey show, I found moments where my mind drifted away from what was happening on stage.
The net result, for me, was seeing a lot of “real good” but less “really great” than I’d come to expect from Odyssey Theatre.
And please, do note, that while I had high expectations, quibbling about the difference between real good/really great is not exactly a bad problem. The Amorous Servant remains highly entertaining and the laughter was frequent from spectators of all ages. (There were a handful of younger children on the evening I was there.)
Of particular note, The two buffoon sons, Florindo (Christopher Allen) and Lelio (Abraham Asto) were memorable for their outlandish, incompetent characterizations and Lise Cormier brought the show home with a strong stage presence and her forceful portrayal of Corallina. The production design remains of top quality.
More, there’s just something magical and wonderful about an evening of theatre under the stars. The lack of any walls (perhaps ironically) bringing you closer and connecting you more to the antics playing out in front of you. The great wide open making easier work of your suspension of disbelief to allow a greater immersion. Plus, fresh air, ice cream, and the scenic Strathcona Park and Rideau River all around you. Just consider bringing a cushion for your butt (or rent one) and some bug repellant.
Despite not reaching the highs I hoped for, The Amorous Servant is still a recommend, particularly if you’re new to Odyssey Theatre or commedia dell’arte.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. How did the Amorous Servant rank for you? What were your favourite moments? Join the discussion and leave me a comment below.
The Amorous Servant, presented by Odyssey Theatre runs now through August 20th at Strathcona Park. Full information and online box office: http://odysseytheatre.ca