Staged, in director Andy Massingham’s new adaptation, in 1950s Venice, The Servant of Two Masters is a commedia masterpiece with the melodramatic overtones of an Italian telenovela. For those who aren’t familiar, commedia dell’arte, is a highly physical, highly stylized genre of comedic theatre characterized in part by masks, stock character types (devious servants, lustful maids, young lovers, miserly old merchants) and twistedly intricate yet simple to follow plots. It is a wonderful form of classic theatre, highly accessible for even the most theatre averse to just let go and laugh.
Truffaldino is servant to Frederigo. Truffaldino is hungry. After a chance meeting, Truffaldino figures he can double his money and meals by taking on a second master and secretly double dealing. Only the real Frederigo is dead and the person that everybody thinks is Freddie, is actually his twin sister Beatrice, dressed in the guise of her brother to collect cash money owed to him by the miserly Pantalone and also to track down her lover Florindo who, as fate would have it, is Truffaldino’s second master. Oh, and Pantolone’s daughter Clarice, in love with the overzealous Silvio, was promised to Frederigo, and so Beatrice has to play along with the engagement to keep her ruse going, much to Clarice and Silvio’s anguish. It’s an uproarious love story full of crazy hijinks, duplicity, briefly broken hearts, romance, and genuine “aw” moments.
What’s wonderful about this production of The Servant of Two Masters is everything. The beautiful set has a canal built around it (and yes, there is water play). The gorgeous sound design of Italian inspired tunes includes theme songs to introduce each character. The highly stylized physical comedy is replete with winks at the audience, sight gags, magic, and enough innuendo to make your momma blush. The highly creative fight choreography is damned impressive.
There are great things to say about every member of this magnificent cast but to hold a reasonable word count, here’s just a few:
Jesse Buck (Truffaldino) is an A-level physical performer and as outstanding and enjoyable in his solo scenes as he is with other cast members. Sarah Finn (Beatrice) is in finest form working hard to keep up the guise of leather jacket clad, pulled from the set of Grease, Frederigo. Dana Fradkin’s Smeraldina shares an exquisite dance scene with Jesse Buck. Zachary Counsil (Brighella) cunningly conveys a wily trickster foil, adding to Truffaldino’s already significant stresses.
It’s important to note that The Servant of Two Masters is being presented outdoors at Strathcona park. With an 8pm show time and stage nestled downhill from the setting sun, you may not need to bring along sunscreen, but do consider bug spray as the park does sit next to the Ottawa River (go early, make an event of it, it’s a lovely area). It’s bleacher seating and the seats are not forgiving so bring a blanket to sit on, or get there early with a lawn chair and try to claim one of the front row seats. Odyssey also rents seat cushions for a couple bucks if you forget yours. There are refreshments sold at intermission, including ice cream.
Being outside, be ready for anything. Opening night was held for a few minutes on account of rain, leading to some hysterical ad libs. When it looked like the rain had stopped and the show was about to resume, the sky opened a second time, threatening to end the show ten minutes before the climax. Potential damage to props and masks aside, the kind of physical comedy going on is hazardous on a slippery stage. Just as it looked like all hope was lost, director Andy Massingham rallied his actors and boisterously bounded on the stage proclaiming that they would finish the show – safely (downplaying some of the physicality). Additional kudos to them all for bringing it all home. The rain had stopped again a few minutes later.
So hey, if it’s gonna be summer out there anyway – and, spoiler alert, it is – you owe yourself the treat of an evening outdoors for some theatre under the stars that’s guaranteed to make you smile. I know I’m planning to go back for another go. And did I mention the ice cream?
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Did the high charged antics of The Servant of Two Masters split your sides? Did the hard wood of the bleachers sour your mood too much to enjoy? Join the discussion and let me know in the comments below.
Odyssey Theate’s The Servant of Two Masters runs at Strathcona Park now through August 21st. Full info: http://OdysseyTheatre.ca