Shakespeare Theatre Company The Servant of Two MastersBy Bob Ashby • May 24th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through July 8th
2:15 with one intermission
$50-$90 (+ Fees)
Reviewed May 20th, 2012
The T-shirt they sell at the Lansburgh Theatre shop for this show says “Everything is Confused, Everything is Magical.” That about sums it up. The Shakespeare Theater’s production of The Servant of Two Masters, a commedia dell’arte piece originally written by 18th-century Italian playwright Carlo Goldini and adapted by Constance Congdon, is the most outrageously over-the-top, nonstop, roll-in-the-aisles funny thing to hit this town in recent memory.
The variety of sheer delicious improvisational goofiness cannot be overstated. Where to begin? There’s the literal slapstick, actors loudly slapping and getting slapped from beginning to end of the show. There’s the exaggerated and highly stylized, but wonderfully supple and coordinated, physical comedy and instantaneous reactions by all the actors, buttressed by their equally stylized vocal sounds. There’s the crash of pots, pans, and whatever else can make noise backstage. There are flying fish caught in a butterfly net. There are allusions galore to Washington politicians, from Lincoln to Santorum; to baroque and hip-hop music; to local productions of Shakespeare and O’Neill; and to several Broadway musicals.
There’s extensive sexual ribaldry and a touch of bathroom humor. There’s a marvelous set piece in which the items of a planned banquet are repeatedly mentioned, complete with quick descriptions of how each of the animals involved will be killed. There are concealed identities, improvised lies, romantic misunderstandings, misdirected and torn-up letters, wig jokes, painful puns, fractured Latin, and one pants-splitting moment that may or may not have been planned. The energy and pace are so rapid-fire, and the verbal and sight gags come so thick and fast, that I’m sure I missed some of what went on. No matter; I was having too much fun to care.
And the actors? Take a look at the cast list below and stir in a list of superlatives as long as the list of stage business above. Steven Epp as the scheming servant Truffaldino led the merry men and women, but everyone portrayed his or her character with clarity and, at times, notwithstanding the reliance of commedia on character types, touching human feeling.
There’s music too, supplied by a two-man band (Chris Curtin and Aaron Halva) on accordion, violin, and percussion. Costumed and positioned on stage right, the two play a pastiche of music, from circus-like sounds to bits and pieces of baroque favorites, timed perfectly (down to the last ba-boom) with the actors’ shenanigans. The actors also sing, by the way, and there are musical interludes spaced throughout the show, my favorite being an opera-style trio accompanied by white butterflies dancing in the air.
The designers get into the act as well, of course. The set, complete with decorated false proscenium and old-fashioned footlights, featured a curtain hung from a large frame mid-stage, backed by a drop painted with a blue sky and clouds. Internally-lit model buildings filled the upstage corners. The actors used the set well, running in and out of and around the curtains and sometimes ducking under the backdrop. Costumes and masks were colorful and clearly identified the character types involved (the poofy dress and underskirts worn by Danielle Brooks as Clarice was particularly funny).
The house ceiling was festooned with strings of multicolored lights, there was a pretty starlight effect toward the end of the show (complete with paper moon), and there was excellent use of low light and different shadings on the backdrop. The show began in total darkness, with two actors with flashlights trying to navigate the stage. The lighting even got into the jokes, with a large fake switch that allowed an actor to create instant blackouts.
There is a plot, incidentally – thwarted young lovers, interfering parents, manipulative servants, twists and turns and reversals – but the details of the outline on which the evening’s improvised business is hung don’t much matter. What does matter was the lighthearted spirit with which everyone in the audience I saw left the theater at the end of the show. My only regret was not having had the opportunity to have been a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process, watching the company put the confusion and magic together, but then someone would no doubt have found a way of adding a fly-swatting bit to the show’s antics. Splursh.
Photos by Richard Termine
- Clarice: Danielle Brooks
- Brighella: Liam Craig
- Truffaldino: Steven Epp
- Pantalone: Allen Gilmore
- Silvio: Andy Grotelueschen
- Beatrice: Rachel Spencer Hewitt
- Waiter: Paul Edward Hope
- Florindo: Jesse J. Perez
- Waiter: Paul Reisman
- Il Dottore: Don Darryl Rivera
- Smeraldina: Liz Wisan
Direction And Design
- Director: Christopher Bayes
- Set Designer: Katherine Akiko Day
- Lighting Designer: Chuan-Chi Chan
- Costume Designer: Valérie Thérèse Bart
- Sound Designer: Charles Coes
- Sound Designer: Nathan A. Roberts
- Composer and Musician: Aaron Halva
- Composer and Musician: Chris Curtis
- Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
- Resident Casting Director : Daniel Neville-Rehbehn
- Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
- Original Voice and Text Coach: Beth McGuire
- Additional Vocal Work: Ellen O’Brien
- Literary Associate: Drew Lichtenberg
- Assistant Director: Jenny Lord
- Stage Manager: Stina Lotti
- Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Clewley
Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8107.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.