By Gail Hayes
Special to the Tribune-Star
“The Servant of Two Masters” opens this weekend, the third play of the Crossroads Repertory Theatre summer season at Indiana State University.
Performances are scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as July 18, 24 and 27, all at 7:30 p.m. except for the Sunday matinee at 4 p.m.
Crossroads Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Arthur Feinsod is directing the play, written by Carlo Goldoni and adapted by Constance Congdon from a translation by Christina Sibul.
“Servant” is the most popular work ever written in the Commedia dell’arte tradition, featuring a highly physical acting style which can be described as farce. As is traditional in this form, the masters and servants are masked, while the lovers and female servants are not.
The term “slapstick” comedy derives from this kind of play where one of the characters, Truffaldino (Brandon Wentz) in this play, carries a slapstick to beat others with but which is usually used against him. Commedia was a great influence on slapstick masters of more modern times such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the great mime Marcel Marceau, Lucille Ball and even Kramer from Seinfeld.
In the play, Beatrice (Carolyn Conover) travels to Venice looking for her beloved Florindo (Graham Emmons). She is disguised as a man; in fact, she is pretending to be her own dead brother, Federigo Rasponi. The sudden appearance of the dead brother, who had been promised to Pantalone’s daughter, the young and beautiful Clarice (Charles Adams and Ashley Wolfe), derails the planned engagement between Clarice and Silvio (Sam Fain), the pedantic doctor, Il Dottore (Chuck Shutt).
Unbeknownst to each other, lovers Beatrice and Florindo stay at the same inn, owned by Brighella (Eddie Urish), and end up employing the same servant, the wily and foolish Truffaldino, who is constantly hungry and decides he’ll simultaneously serve two masters so he can be paid for two and eat for two.
The situation becomes funnier as fathers attempt to manipulate love and, due to mistaken identities and backfiring schemes, create a hopeless knot that only time and luck eventually untie. Goldoni’s play, full of physical comedy, includes masked masters, disguised lovers, mistaken identities, mixed-up trunks and letters, a singing gondolier (Samantha Hayes), as well as conflicting simultaneous dinners, served by the head waiter (Brian Kogut) and waiters (Caleb Clark and Rashad Ellis).
The characters of the play all come from the original Commedia dell’arte, which started in northern Italy in about 1550 as an improvised form of acting. The art form had spread throughout Europe by 1650. Actors would take on one of the stock characters like Harlequin and Pantalone to play their whole lives. By about 1750, the genre began to lose popularity until it was given new life when Carlo Goldoni scripted storylines that previously had only been improvised.
While the antics of this comedy leave the audience in stitches, there is also a more serious lesson of deciding what to serve: truth, honesty and integrity on the one hand or money and one’s stomach on the other. In the end, love — and the soul — conquer all, even for Truffaldino who, in the end, confesses his wily plan to serve two masters so that he can marry Clarice’s servant, Smeraldina (Ariana Cohen), the one voice of wisdom throughout the play.
After Sunday’s matinee, audiences are invited to stay for a free “Sunday Talk.” Feinsod and Wentz will present a lecture/demonstration on the art of mask making.
Season tickets for all four shows of the Three Laughs and a Scream summer season are available for $52. A ticket to “The Servant of Two Masters” costs $15. Indiana State University students get one free ticket per show with student ID, while ISU faculty and staff can get theirs at a reduced price.
Tickets can be reserved at www.crossroadsrep.com or at the box office located inside the New Theater, 540 N. Seventh St. For additional information, call 812-237-3333.