Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey features Goldoni’s best-known comedy
Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) was a prolific Venetian writer of plays and libretti. He created a new theatrical form by combining the example of his idol Molière with the best parts of commedia dell’arte and his own observations of local characters and situations. It seems fitting that the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is following this season’s production of Molière’s Tartuffe with a new adaptation of Goldoni’s best-known comedy The Servant of Two Masters. The result is a light summer night’s entertainment now playing at the Outdoor Stage at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station.
Pantalone (Jay Leibowitz), merchant of Venice, learning that his first choice of a husband for only child Clarice (Miranda Rizzolo) has died, has betrothed her to Silvio (Russell Sperberg), son of his friend Dottore Lombardi (Raphael Nash Thompson). Into their celebration comes Truffaldino (James Michael Reilly) announcing that the dead suitor Risponi wishes to meet with Pantalone on business. Pantalone, a man of his word, breaks the just-made engagement and intends to give Clarice to Risponi as originally intended. Unknown to all, the “suitor” is really Risponi’s sister Beatrice (Izzie Steele) disguised as a man, come to collect money owed her late brother. Truffaldino, tired, hungry, and ignored by his “master”, looks to change employers and hires himself out to Florindo (Tug Rice) — but then realizes that with two masters he can get two salaries and two meals. Florindo turns out to be the man who killed Risponi for love of Beatrice, and the two lovers have been searching for each other. Truffaldino’s increasingly frenzied attempts to hide his dual servitude lead to comic confusions and misunderstandings right up until the last moments of the play.
The play is a collection of familiar comic tropes
While the original play’s translation and adaptation by Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte captures the basic elements of the plot, the wordplay is mostly flat. Fortunately, there are several other sources for the evening’s humor. One is skillfully timed physical comedy, including the antics of Truffaldino throughout the play and a fabulously staged duel between Silvio and the disguised Beatrice. Another is a collection of familiar comic tropes. These include stock characters and situations from commedia dell’arte as well as bits of business harking back to Roman comedies, such as a scene where two illiterates try to fool each other into thinking they can read. The cast, under the direction of Doug West, brings these to comic life during the course of the play.
As for the Shakespeare Theatre’s design staff, fine work is done by Paul Canada as costume designer, updating classical designs and patterns to create clothes that are both practical and comedic. Jonathan Wentz’ scenic design, filled with doorways, staircases, and sliding panels meets the needs of both the local inn and Pantalone’s home. While Rachel Miner Gibney’s lighting is fine, for a play filled with asides to the audience I would have liked to have seen some form of visual highlighting of the actors giving those asides.
For a light evening amusement, go see The Servant of Two Masters
The Servant of Two Masters is not a serious, thought-provoking piece of great literature. Then again, it’s not aiming to be. For a light evening amusement, go see this production of Goldoni’s classic comedy, The Servant of Two Masters.
The Servant of Two Masters is presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the Outdoor Stage on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, NJ through July 29, 2018. For tickets and information, visit shakespearenj.org.