Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, translated and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and Pablo Emilio Landi, and presented by the SVSU Theatre Department, is a series of comic mishaps and mix-ups. An acting troupe will weave for you the simplest complicated tale you will ever watch. Characters pretend to be who they’re not; characters invent people to blame for their misdeeds; they mistake and misunderstand each other constantly. When heading to their seats, an audience member needs to know that this performance, presented in the style of commedia dell’arte, is BIG. Commedia uses larger-than-life stock characters, many in masks, with distinct physicality to set them apart from each other.
This production, directed by David Rzeszutek, is physical, bawdy, and filled with fun asides that comment on the goings-on of the play. This production also works hard to explain to the audience what is going on, although I didn’t feel that it was necessary, as the actors did a great job of keeping us with the action. But in case you were worried, you won’t be left behind! The pace and timing of the show had a nice clip and should do nothing but improve with the added energy of an audience (I attended a dress rehearsal) It is clear that the director has a good knowledge of the physical vocabulary needed to pull off the commedia style and he did a good job guiding his actors to fully commit to their work. The cast reaction to the heavy steps of one character was a standout moment for Rzeszutek.
Joshua Lloyd, as the elderly father Pantalone, was a highlight of the production, playing the character with fully committed physicality that seemed motivated by his circumstances. He lived in the world of the play the whole time I watched him. Tristian Evanoff, playing the character of Smeraldina, did the same. She smoldered, flirted, and displayed a sharpness of movement that was impressive. There is a scene with a well-used rond de jambe that should put a smile on your face.
The scenic design by Jerry Dennis was fun and looked sharp. I loved seeing the bare stage when I walked in, only to have a completely different stage picture unfold minutes later. The paint texturing on the walls and stairs was particularly memorable. The lighting design was by Natasha Nash, and the sound design, though minimal, was well-executed by Lucas Inman. The punch sound effects in the first act left me wishing there was a fuller sound design to continue what was started. Costumes by Jennifer Lothian were a bright and engaging palette. I appreciated seeing the matching touches of color or pattern in characters that were related or in love. I was distracted by the lone modern costume in the show, which was intended to break us out of the moment and call attention to the exposition. However, I feel it managed only to create a distraction with clunky shoes and flash. I missed an entire reading of a letter I fear was important because of it.
A few other performers I feel need special mention include: Abby Burgess as both the well-timed Promptress and the sharp/well-spoken Zanni who was wise to Truffaldino’s mischief. (I was surprised to find out the same actress played both roles!), and Amber Tanner as the Stage Manager who’s ‘un-actor-y’ performance in the commercial break was very entertaining. On the other hand, there were three actors that seemed to be playing moments to amuse their friends in the audience and not to enhance the scenes.
Lastly, I cannot write this review without commending the extremely aerobic and demanding way both Dominic Pnacek as Truffaldino, and Holly Houck as Brighella, carried themselves. I imagine this cast leaves the theatre exhausted every night.
We don’t often get to see this style of theatre anymore. Don’t miss your chance!
A Servant of Two Masters plays at plays in the Malcolm Field Theatre at Saginaw Valley State University from Oct 31-Nov 3 at 7:30pm and Nov 4th at 3pm.
For tickets, visit: https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/14187?fbclid=IwAR18qcc7CdVPSjtbDCW761ZXIoxbwaOx1Zqv8dN9juc96e9qks_zRUeudzo