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Theater review: The Servant of Two Masters serves a tasty platter of commedia dell'arte

Adam Feldman

It begins in elegance. Two Italian workmen stumble upon the remnants of an abandoned theater; when they open a trunk, fireflies flutter out and turn into the stars above a Venice of yore. But from then on in The Servant of Two Masters, we’re mostly in the broadly colorful land of commedia dell’arte: a world of crafty servants and passionate lovers and notably bad communication. Adapted by Constance Congdon from Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 comedy—and further adapted by director Christopher Bayes and star Steven Epp—the show takes an anything-goes approach via stock characters, one-liners, slapstick, masks, songs and snatches of anachronistic improvisation. (There are plenty of jokes about the 2016 election.)

Decked out by costumer Valérie Thérèse Bart in a harlequin’s motley diamond suit, Epp—a very gifted physical comedian—plays the dopey-wily Truffaldino, who is clumsily trying to juggle two bosses: Florindo (a drolly ardent Orlando Pabotoy) and Beatrice (Liz Wisan), who is disguised as a man. He doesn’t know they are lovers, looking for each other; they don’t know he’s doing his best to keep them apart. Meanwhile, Beatrice is trying to collect money from Pantalone (an oddly sassy Allen Gilmore, who does a marvelous bit on his knees); Pantalone’s vapid daughter, Clarice (Adina Verson) is set to marry Silvio (a hilariously babyish Eugene Ma), and her maid, Smeraldina (Emily Young, welcomely dry) has a thing for Truffaldino. Hearts are confused, swords are drawn, food and jokes are tossed about. The energetic ensemble essentially throws spaghetti against the wall, sees what sticks, and serves that up; then it gathers the remaining noodles from the floor, pours on some cheese, and serves that up too, with a genuine smile.

Theater for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center (Off Broadway). By Carlo Goldoni. Dir. Christopher Bayes. With Steven Epp. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. Through Dec 4. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

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